I have two young daughters. Here are some questions that go through my head:
How am I going to protect them from pain? All of it: physical, mental, emotional, and relational? How can I shield them from any suffering – in all stages of life?
How am I going to protect them from falling in love at 15, thinking that person is the one they will marry? How will I protect them from their first heartbreak, and feeling they will die from a broken heart?
How can I protect them from having self-doubt? From questioning if they are deserving? Or good enough?
How can I protect them from the “mean girls” that will hate on them just because they can? Or because they're jealous? How can I teach them to never be that way to anyone else?
How can I protect them from buying into the bull that they have to be perfect? Or skinny? From comparing themselves? How can I stop them from falling for peer pressure? From going against their morals and values?
How can I protect them from being reckless or careless? From texting and driving? Drinking and driving? From being a passenger with a careless or reckless driver?
How can I protect them from addiction? From experimenting with some stupid drug that they decide to try “just once” and then end up accidentally overdosing, or drowning in their own vomit? I mean, dang, it happens!
How can I protect them from having sex too soon? STDs? From teen pregnancy?
How can I stop them from hurting each other? Or me?
How can I protect them from accidents? Injuries? Getting hit by a backing up car? Being kidnapped? Or robbed? From natural disasters? Lyme disease? Cancer? Or any other crappy illness?
These are some of questions that run through my mind - that cause me to cry when I hear songs like Colbie Caillat’s “Try” or Taylor Swift’s “Fifteen”.
There actually is an answer to all of these questions...
I can’t really protect them from any of it. Neither can you. What we can do is teach them what they need in life to protect themselves. Here are 10 ways to do this:
1. Raise your child’s Emotional Intelligence (EQ). When a person is overwhelmed with emotion, with no understanding of what to do, it usually gets projected outward in an unhealthy way. Learning how to perceive, reason, and understand their emotions raises personal awareness and helps them to feel more emotionally safe and grounded. Great resources for EQ: Book: Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman. Article: What is Emotional Intelligence? by Kendra Cherry.
2. Teach them about Emotional Self-Care. Supporting them with managing and caring for their emotions will help them to feel emotionally empowered. Learning how to take care of themselves INTERNALLY when they are triggered can be a serious moment and life changer. Some call this self-regulation or self-soothing. Emotions are like waves, and once the person feels back to balance, s/he will be more capable of responding appropriately to the situation, and others.
3. Teach them about having a Strong Sense of Self. Criticism is a self-confidence killer. We have a serious “No Criticism Policy” in our home. One way I do that is to reinforce that policy – in a firm but loving (ok sometimes irritated) way – every single time when I hear them saying anything critical about themselves or others. Every single time. Instead, help them find solutions to whatever they are being critical about, or gently remind them, “Uplift, or say nothing.”
4. Teach them about Self-Love and Self-Respect. It is very important that children learn from birth that they are lovable and respectable beings. You can teach this by simply showing them love and respect both proactively (every day, for no reason) and reactively (when they have made a mistake, have a zit, are having a challenge with a friend, have unrequited love, etc). Create family values they can live by that demonstrate self-love and self-respect. Reinforce them consistently. We do this as a night time ritual.
5. Teach them about Making Healthy Choices. Eat well, exercise, and do positive and healthy things in your daily life. Have the concept of making healthy choices a priority in your life lessons. Really understand what that means, so you can model and teach it. Some good info here.
6. Teach them to be Street Smart. My mom barely spoke English in my formative years. She had just immigrated to the USA and all she had to give was what she was taught. I always say Street Smarts is the most valuable thing she taught me: to be aware of my surroundings, be resourceful, defend myself if I have to, say no to unhealthy things, create safety plans, have common sense and, overall survive in any given situation.
7. Teach them to be Responsible and Capable. Stop catering and, instead, teach. If they are thirsty, get a drink. If they are hungry, feed themselves. If they are cold, get a jacket. If they can’t see, move. If they have a question, ask. If they want money, get a job. Show them how to do laundry, fold clothes, wash dishes, plunge toilets, get directions, apply for a job, use Google, etc.
8. Teach them to be Resilient. The ability to adapt and interact with different types of people, in different situations, and consciously go with the flow will reduce stress and anxiety as your child goes through life. It is very important you teach that resiliency is different than allowing others to pressure, or walk all over, them.
9. Teach them about Growing from Adversity. Things are going to happen. They will experience the challenges mentioned in this article. These can all be learning and growing moments. Teach them how to step back and look at why the challenge was brought to them, what they can learn, and how they can grow from it. It will teach them about TRUST and help them to move through adversity, versus get stuck in it.
10. Teach them to surround themselves with Positive, Uplifting, and Like-Minded People. This starts with you doing just that. Also - get them involved in things that support this mindset, such as Kids For Peace or the Girl Uplifters Team. Reinforce this through whatever they are exposed to (media, literature, etc).
Overall, the key is twofold: a) model these 10 points for them, and b) take the time to stop, breathe, and teach/re-teach the lessons. In their early years, they are just learning things for the first time so the reinforcement and practice is all part of the process. Give them examples and share your own experiences.
In the mean time, while you are raising an emotionally intelligent-responsible-confident-self-loving-self-respecting-healthy choice making-street smart-trusting in the universe-resilient awesome person, you might have some moments where you get inundated with worry, or stuck in the C.A.J.E (Criticism, Assumption, Judgment, Evaluation). When that happens, use some of the tips here.
NOTE: The Healing Vigilante Children Series will expand upon these ten points and also include other topics that will support you to navigate through the child-raising waters.