Providing your children the support they need
I often laugh at myself when I think of fun ways I can support my children. From tea parties, to dance offs, to football drills; my children definitely test my energy, flexibility, and durability! To “support” our children is to share the metaphorical weight of their positive and negative experiences and emotions. Providing support requires us to be physically, mentally, and spiritually present throughout their highs and lows. Because we are our children’s providers (i.e. we provide food, water, shelter, education, and clothing), many of us would proudly claim that we are extremely supportive of our children. Though I agree that support by providing life’s necessities is a critical role, we must also provide emotional support to our children. Why? Because our children rely upon our support to effectively navigate the obstacles and opportunities in life.
Here are my thoughts on how we can provide emotional support to our children.
My guiding principles:
As with all of my philosophical beliefs, I like to establish guidelines to keep my actions consistent and focused. So I established the below “guiding principles” to help you get started on your journey.
Guideline #1: We all make mistakes!
Firstly, it is important that we acknowledge and accept that human beings are fallible creatures. That means that whether young or old, we all make mistakes! Our children are no exception to that rule. The good news is–with your help–they will learn and grow from their mistakes if we empower and patiently instruct them.
Guideline #2: Shamelessly show your pride.
If you’re proud and you know it, let them know!
Have you ever experienced the almost overwhelming feeling when your child accomplishes something? I’ve been there plenty of times! Honestly, I previously tried to hide those emotions because I wanted to appear to be “stoic” or “macho.” I eventually realized that our children are often seeking our validation and approval to help them develop an understanding of what “success” looks like. Therefore, allowing them to see how proud you are boosts their self-esteem and gives them greater confidence in their abilities. Contrarily, failing to show them your approval can lead to low self-esteem and insecurities. So take inventory of your children’s successes and talents, critique them with grace and tact, affirm their great characteristics, and lather them in praise and approval. Don’t pass up a good opportunity to show your support!
Guideline #3: Validate their feelings and emotions.
I have written about validating our children’s feelings and emotions often, because it is imperative. Actively listen to them, and share the moment. Each generation presents similar but different challenges, so be open to understanding the many factors that contribute to or detract from their emotional well-being. Avoid judging them based upon your own upbringing or experiences. I believe we all have an interesting “back in my day” story that makes us appear to be mentally tougher than the next generation; however, those comparisons are often wildly subjective and anecdotal. To be clear, I am not encouraging you to look past or corroborate poor behavior that may result from our children’s adaptive emotional state; however, I am encouraging you to support them by understanding the many factors that may contribute to their actions.
Guideline #4: Be their shield.
This is probably one of my favorite parts of being a parent–being my children’s protector. This is both a science and an art. The “science” behind protecting our children is fairly simple; we shield them from observed or perceived danger. If I could, I would build a physical and emotional fortress for my children–complete with a moat, drawbridge, and snipers! Of course, that’s where the enigmatic “art” of protecting our children becomes important. I do not advocate for any particular parenting style; however, I do recommend that we strike a healthy balance between protecting our children from danger and becoming excessively interested in their daily life experiences. Generally speaking, your “shield” should protect your children from imminent danger that may cause long-term effects not block your children from experiencing routine emotions associated with daily experiences.
For example, on one hand, I teach my children to avoid lengthy interactions (interactions beyond the normal greeting) with strangers unless a parent or a trusted adult (teacher, caregiver, etc.) is present. I teach them this for their safety, because we live in an imperfect world. On the other hand, I rarely interfere when my children meet and interact with other children–even when other children respectfully decline playing with or befriending my children. Although I hate to see them disappointed, I understand that they will be rejected many times throughout life. Therefore, it is wise for me to use those opportunities to teach them how to respond to rejection instead of attempting to prevent the inevitable.
Ultimately, our children need to feel and understand that we always have their back. Believe it or not, they are comforted by the fact that you are their physical and emotional protector. Don’t be afraid to tell them, “I got your back!” and “I am here for you!” When heartfelt, those words are extremely valuable.
Guideline #5: Don’t expect reciprocity.
We live in such a “quid pro quo” society that it is easy to allow this culture to pervade our homes and familial relationships. Trust me; I’ve been there.: “After all I’ve done for you, this is the thanks I get?!” I believe that is a normal feeling to have after you’ve poured your all into someone and have not received an immediate return. The bottom line is we serve and support our children because it’s the right thing to do, and the return we seek is always in their best interests–not ours. Accordingly, I recommend that we make informed decisions based upon what’s best for our children. Teach them to be grateful and appreciative, but don’t demand that they reciprocate your support in any way.
Ways to show support:
I’d like to summarize with just a few applicable ideas on how you can show your children support. This list is nowhere near all-inclusive, but it’s a starting point to spark your imagination.
- Handwrite a heartfelt letter. Be open and transparent about how much you love them and how proud you are of them.
- Document everything you can. Take pictures and record videos, then upload them to “the cloud.” (i.e. Apple cloud, Google Drive, One Drive, Dropbox, etc.) Sharing these memories with your children can be fun and comical! Just make sure you have a pack of tissue in case your eyes start “sweating” a little.
- Implement uninterrupted one-on-one time. I learned from another father that he and his son enjoy bonding while playing Nintendo Switch–even when the father is deployed! Be creative, because these are the foundational moments that build supportive relationships.
Sometimes, creating these opportunities with large families can be challenging. Create a set schedule if you can. Even a 10-minute storytime before bed can blossom into something beautiful.
- Establish an environment of support. Let your children see you show support to the other parent, teachers, family members, non-profit organizations like Stand For The Silent 😉, etc. They need to understand that being physically and emotionally supportive is the norm not the exception.
- Find out what is important to your children, then help them develop an actionable plan to achieve their goals. This simple exercise not only shows that you support your children’s endeavors, but it is a great opportunity to bond and get to know more about them.
- Reward and celebrate! I cannot stress this one enough. At a minimum, give your children a good ol’ high five and a pat on the back! There are studies that describe how a simple high five can trigger the brain to release dopamine and increase happiness.Not only that, but positive reinforcement helps to build momentum and confidence and it’s critical to showing your children the support they need.Take time to celebrate; it’ll pay dividends in the future!
The most important thing is that you have fun. It is truly an honor to support and serve our children, and I have faith that many of us are on the right track. Providing emotional support to our children is a long-term investment that will yield positive results and a brighter future.
I believe in you!