"A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
This short poem by Emily Dickinson has a variety of interpretations. As an elementary teacher I wrote it on the blackboard the first day of school. I used it in reference to how we treat one another, intolerance of bullying and simply kindness in general.
Now as a life coach I often refer to it in terms of language and the ability to empower through the choice of words and methods in which we communicate with children and our peers.
Youngsters and adolescents face a daily barrage of challenges to their sense of self worth, well-being and perception of just where they fit into the scheme of things. There are more unhappy and suffering children than adults think... and yours just might be one of them.
Some parents (unfortunately more often Dads) will make little of negative experiences saying "it's just a part of growing up... it'll toughen him or her." While it's true that developing a fairly impervious shell is important... the rest is sheer bu*****t.
Want to raise a physically and emotionally healthy child? It doesn't happen by magic. It takes planning, your self-awareness, spousal communication and a host of other actions.
Empower Your Child
Whatever the age, or whether you're a parent or grandparent you have the ability (and in my humble opinion) the responsibility to create an environment in which your child is encouraged to experiment, challenged to take chances and respected for choices they make.
This doesn't mean letting your child run free, doing whatever they feel like and misbehaving without suffering consequences.
It does represent looking for activities and methods of communication that put your child in the driver's seat. Creating challenges no matter the outcome is healthy for children. It's how they learn to deal with both success and failure.
My elementary students were comprised largely of children at risk. Many suffered from highly dysfunctional home conditions, academic difficulties and a host of emotional ills. I made it a point within the first week of school to identify one strength unique to each child... and then reinforce it.
Both children and adults handle adversity better when they have had positive experiences in their lives. It's much easier to handle failure when your frame of reference is a positive one.
Bottom Line # 1:
Make An Empowerment Plan - Create opportunities for your youngster to develop feelings of self-confidence, importance and worthiness. Let them know you value them and their opinions!
Communicate With Your Child
I don't mean simply listen as they tell you about their school day. Chances are if you ask how school was (a question so many kids hate) all you'll get is the word "fine."
Talking to your child about what they should be doing, driving them to activities, reminding them of dinner time, *nagging about homework, lecturing about keeping their room clean... all these are important components of parenting but do not constitute enlightened communication that shows interest, teaches, demonstrates love and as mentioned earlier empowers them.
* A note about homework nagging. Just my opinion... it's not very helpful and creates on-going stress and hassles that can derail the best laid plans. It's my belief that there are a variety of reasons kids procrastinate doing homework. In fact, it's an area where open discussions, probing questions and close listening will provide you with lots of useful input. Yelling and punishments may get it completed, but make for more stress than it's worth.
Worse case (particularly for children who have the ability but lack the inclination) they'll receive bad grades and at some point self correct. I'm sure there are readers that may not agree and please feel free to comment below.
Bottom Line #2:
Create A Communication Protocol - Give thought about how you interact with your child, your tone of voice, how well you listen, the value you give to what's important to them, creating opportunities that allow and encourage self expression and any way you can demonstrate that you are always available to them no matter what!
Generate A Stress Free Atmosphere
OK. This one may seem a bit idealistic. However once again it's a matter of introspection and becoming aware of what transpires in the home on a daily basis. Whether there's both a Mom and Dad or it's a single family household you can manage the environment you create.
Is it easy? No. When a marriage is intact, there's often an incredible amount of inconsequential bickering. Do yourself and your child a favor... become aware and look at ways to help create a harmonious environment.
If you are a single parent you're probably running on empty! Perhaps you're a soccer mom. You can't change the fact that your spouse isn't providing enough or any child support, doesn't arrive on time to pick your up your child on the weekend, don't have any support with discipline, feel stretched at all ends and to top it off have no social life.
As a single Dad you may harbor tremendous resentment that you get so little time to spend with your child. Custody laws are changing but generally tend to favor Mothers. Disagreements over how to raise your child can be a constant source of tension.
These are all real and valid stressors. It's not easy to react to frustrations with your child in a stress free way. But the truth is, with thought and planning you can channel your reactions to stress, reduce the level of it you communicate to your child, create a more relaxed environment... and ultimately make daily living enjoyable and healthy for all.
Bottom Line #3:
Be aware of the impact of the stress you are under. This is different than experiencing being stressed. In a way it's a bit like mindfulness... let yourself experience the stress and the feelings that go along with it. However, look for ways you can mediate the feelings and make a concerted effort to create a family environment that celebrates moments of peacefulness, harmony and relaxation.
A tool I used as a teacher and now when coaching families is what I call "Quiet Time." This is different from the valuable quality family time that many share. It's a period during the late afternoon or evening when every family member spends "alone time" doing whatever relaxes them the most. There's no communication with or expectations of one another. You'll be amazed at how cathartic and stress reducing this can be.
One special reminder...read to the little ones every night. It's relaxing and proven to help them in reading and language development. Don't be afraid to use character voices and act a bit silly. Your child will love it!
Naturally there are many more than three ways you can help your child. Yet if you take nothing else away from this article let it be that creating a healthy home atmosphere doesn't just happen spontaneously.. It takes planning. Make the time. It's worth it!
Contact Dave Kanegis at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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