To grow into healthy, capable adults, kids need to learn to function independently by solving problems and interacting with the world.
Despite this, it’s often one of the hardest things for parents to allow their kids to do. After all, good parents are supposed to help their kids reach their full potential, providing assistance wherever they can. But what if some of that parental guidance is getting in the way of a child gaining the very skills they need as an adult?
That’s why the American Counseling Association suggests that parents allow kids try new things, solve their own problems, and make mistakes. When kids are allowed to “fail forward,” they learn the important social, cognitive and emotional skills they need to better navigate the world, and thrive as adults. But in today’s fast-paced and demanding world where kids clearly need some parental assistance, it can be difficult to know when helping your child in the short-term may be beneficial and when it may be hindering their long-term potential.
Here are five ways to support your kids and help them grow into healthy, capable adults:
Model the right behaviors. As they say, monkey see, monkey do. From day one, your child is watching to see how you and other adults interact with the world. According to the American Psychological Association, modeling the kind of behaviors you’d like to see in your kids is important. Your kids are looking to you to show them how to behave, so you need to lead by example. So whether it’s adopting healthy eating habits or dealing calmly with a stressful day, it doesn’t matter what you say about appropriate behavior: Kids are paying extremely close attention to what you actually do.
Practice makes perfect. When your child encounters some kind of challenge, whether it’s not being invited to a classmate’s birthday party or receiving a bad grade, it may feel natural to swoop in and manage the situation. But as noted by child therapist, Beverly Amsel, PhD, when you try to fix things for your child, you take away the opportunity for them to learn how to deal with the issue on their own. Instead of reaching for the phone, sit down with your child and talk to him or her about how to best handle the situation. You can even encourage rehearsals where your child can practice what they will say or do in order to better manage what’s happening.
Empathize…but not too much. It can be difficult to witness your child being angry or in pain. Experts such as Jeffrey Bernstein, author of 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, note that it’s important to validate your child’s feelings. However, it’s also important not to go overboard and escalate feelings of unfairness or sadness. Instead, find ways to let your kids know you understand how overwhelming those emotions can be, but then help them discover positive, healthy ways to manage
Let your kids make mistakes. This is a tough one. No matter how awesome your kids is, they are going to make mistakes. Since you likely have the experience to see many of these mistakes coming from a mile away, it’s OK to gently point out potential pitfalls. However, according to Bright Horizons, an organization that offers solutions for today’s biggest education and family challenges, kids who grow into capable adults need to be able to make mistakes in order to learn important skills such as emotional regulation, resilience and coping skills. Sometimes, the best way to teach your kids the most important life lessons is to stand back and let them fall on their proverbial faces!
Help them build healthy habits. As noted by BrainMD, studies show that kids who are encouraged to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly are more likely to perform well academically — and keep those habits later in life. But helping your child pick up healthy habits goes beyond just eating vegetables. Parents can model other healthy behaviors such as saving money, prioritizing responsibilities over play, and successfully communicating with others. By putting a premium on the habits that will support a healthy life as early as possible, you can help better ensure your kids will succeed when they walk out the front door.