I have noticed that most parents try their best to teach their children to succeed. Of course we do! All parents want their children to grow into successful happy adults. No parent wants his or her child to suffer or be unhappy. Fortunately, life will always bring struggles and hardship no matter how much we love or prepare our children. Yes, I said fortunately.
When we don’t allow ourselves as parents to struggle, our kids never watch it or learn how to do it themselves. Children can develop the belief that everything has to be okay all the time. “Mom and Dad always have it together, so I should too.” That is an expectation that will surely be met with disappointment and failure. Here are some ways you can help your children expect struggles and embrace them.
1. Don’t play favorites when it comes to emotion. I know that happiness is the most pleasant emotion to feel, but we have more than one. Don’t bully the other emotions into hiding, or your child will feel shame every time they feel that emotion. Empathize with your child’s sadness, fear, anger, hurt, embarrassment, and guilt. Help them reflect on the emotion and live it when they need to. Don’t chase it away.
2. Let your children disagree and let them watch you disagree. Don’t hide all your conflicts with your spouse behind closed doors. Show your children how to respectfully disagree and learn to understand differences. Thankfully, your child has a unique brain with unique ideas. When your children are confronted by the opposing opinions of others, they are forced to think critically about why they believe what they do. It also teaches them that it is safe to be open to others’ ideas, and think about things in a new way. Lastly, allowing them to disagree teaches them to solve conflict in respectful and healthy ways. This will help your children develop the skill of flexibility, rather than rigidity. Rigid children snap and have a hard time adapting.
3. Let broken things be broken. Stop fixing it! Many times as parents, we see things as being broken or a problem that our child doesn’t consider the same way. Let your child help define what is a problem and what isn’t. Nothing is more devastating to a child, than feeling like they have done well, just to have a parent point out what they did wrong. If the child does see something as a problem, don’t put pressure on them to change it. Empathize with how awful it feels to mess something up. Reflect on times when you messed up big time. Ask them what they want to do about it if anything.
4. Apologize to your children. Parents don’t do everything right. In fact, we mess up just as much as our children do. This can feel like a huge conflict as a parent because it’s our job to teach them how to function and be adults. We think we have to do it all right to gain their respect. Wrong! It’s our job to teach our children how to be imperfect adults. I will never forget the day I sat in the 5th grade and my mother pulled me out of class. She got on her knees and apologized for a conflict that had happened between her and I that morning. She told me she was tired and being impatient with me. To this day, I do not remember the conflict between her and I, but I do remember that it’s okay to mess up and still love each other. I have an infinite amount of re-do’s.
5. Forgive your children. Treat your child the same, not matter what choices they make. Let them feel just as loved when they come to you 14 and pregnant, as they do when they come to you with straight A’s. We all need a bit more unconditional love.
Now, some of these points may be contradicting everything you think and know as a parent. Sometimes, parents fear these ideas because they “don’t want to condone bad behavior.” It is possible to love your children and not the behavior. Teach your children all the good things, and love them and accept them through all the bad. You cannot save them from their challenges. Hard times and bad choices are inevitable. You can prepare them. Teach them how to cry through their struggles, and smile through the triumphs.
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