Sometimes it feels like every parenting choice I'm faced with leaves me scratching my head about which path is best. All that inner questioning has made me something of an aficionado of parenting how-to books over the years — just ask the folks at the public library.
If there's one message that's come through loudly and clearly in all that reading it's this: Our primary goal as parents (after meeting the minimums of food, clothing and shelter) is to help our kids feel safe to discover and grow into the people they're destined to be — even if it is drastically different than what we had imagined or expected.
We want to help them find and express their inner talents; help them discover what makes their hearts and spirits soar; and help them have at least one activity or hobby that's their thing, that they can feel “successful” accomplishing.
In short, we want to help our kids succeed. But what's the best way to do that?
Of course, there's no single right way — it's more a journey of small daily habits. One key step is always keeping a line of communication open, says Jennifer Mink, a counselor at Breckinridge Elementary School in Lexington.
“The most important thing is making your child feel safe to talk about their successes, but also their struggles or failures,” Mink said. “To do this, celebrate achievements no matter how small. This will build a sense of security that they do have things they excel at, and it will also help encourage them to work hard on the other things they want to accomplish.”
But don't stop at talking.
Mink recommends that parents and children sit down together to establish clear, specific and achievable goals — whether for higher grades on the next report card, a faster breaststroke time or first-chair status in the school band — and actually write them down.
“Display the goals and regularly review them at home so that you can work with your child to develop steps to reach these goals together,” she added.
Below are a few other tips from parenting books that have resonated for me:
And although critical for every parent, the next may be the hardest lesson of all:
- Sometimes we have to let our children fail in order for them to learn how to succeed. As Shimi K. Kang writes in The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids – Without Turning into a Tiger: "Children need to struggle at times to develop the mental strength and coordination they need for independence."
- When we step in too soon and too eagerly to rescue our kids and don't allow them the chance to settle their own dispute about whose turn it is on the playground slide, or when we deliver their forgotten homework so they won't get a zero, according to Kang we “unwittingly stifle our children's resilience and independence."
Sometimes, that means we just need to take a step back.
After all, being a parent means making sure our kids have the opportunities — and space — to find their own ways to shine