Do you remember holding your newborn baby? How small they were, how precious they seemed? How they immediately embedded themselves into your heart?
Somewhere beyond that first emotional moment (assuming it occurred!), the work of parenting began. Not just the feeding and changing, but the adjusting and planning for the future. Working out how to be a differently shaped family. Dodging the parenting style debates probably followed close behind!
We all have different ideas about what to do when it comes to raising our kids. But assuming you’re living a relationship of significance with them, you’re gonna want what’s best for their development.
Their personal wellbeing and positive mental health will be part of that. But to raise happy, successful and functional children sometimes you’ll need to lift your head beyond the daily challenges to consider (at least briefly!) the big picture. Here’s five life truths I reckon all of us probably want to embed in the psyche of our kids.
Life truths for a child
1.You are loved
As we’ve said elsewhere in this month focused on rich and rewarding relationships, everyone’s born with a need for significance. Translate that to mean feel loved and you’re well on the way. Kids who feel loved have a security in their spirit which sets them on the path of success. Regularly tell those you care for they have a place in your heart, and express that in different ways to them.
2. You matter
When adults adjust their wants and their world to incorporate the needs of their young ones, they send a signal to those children that they matter. As a baby cries or coos and a caring adult responds, a serve-and-return pattern of people interaction develops in their little brain which builds trust and grows a sense of being worthwhile.
This affirmation we give our kids will eventually enable them to build in their own self-respect and contribute to the world around them from a strong place of identity.
3. You are unique (gifted)
I remember giving my 3-monther’s most favourite toy as a gift to new parents and being surprised when their baby didn’t love it as much as mine did! Kids are different even from birth, with their own interests and talents. We want these life truths so embedded each child feels valued for the ways they’re unique – even whilst we teach them they’re human like the rest of us! Celebrate and develop your kids particular interests, even if they’re not your own!
And regarding the bigger picture…
4. The world is good
I know as adults we’re aware of so many troubling parts of life. But for all that there’s still much joy, and we still want the known world of our young ones to feel good.
Research overwhelmingly says that optimists do better in life. And optimism can be taught. So, teach your children simple gratitude exercises and to say thank you. You’re doing them a service.
5. We care for your safety
Along with believing life’s good, a sense of safety’s critical for young children’s development. This covers not only their physical environment but also their mental and emotional ones. Secure in loving relationships and a good, safe environment it’s possible to extend yourself, to explore and try new things. For the world to grow bigger. And also for you to fail.
Explain your rules as an extension of you caring for your child and their safety – it’s smart. And create opportunities to stretch both their skills and understanding a little at a time.
Any child who’s confident they’re well loved, matter, is unique and living safely in a good world’s got an amazing platform off which to build the rest of their life. It’s not easy to provide that as parents for our offspring, but we should at least try.
However, there’s a second and much harder challenge, and it’s this. Whilst your bambino’s little they need you to provide all their significance, love and support. But as they grow they become increasingly capable. Our ultimate job’s to release healthy and functional adults into the world. The simple life truths we impart to our young ones need to stretch and adjust to reflect more adult realities.
Simple vs simplistic
When I was youthworking, one of the conversations amongst staff was how to help growing bodies and minds adapt their understanding of fundamental concepts to mature along with them. Working in a Christian environment, it was about how to teach Easter and Christmas stories so that growing kids didn’t automatically throw faith traditions out with their belief in Santa.
We concluded adults need to be aware of the difference between simple and simplistic. Simple truths give children explanations and beliefs which say ‘there’s more to this, but that’s enough of the story for you now.’ Simplistic truths sanitise and package complex ideas into such neat boxes they don’t fit a bigger kid’s world.
Sometimes we inadvertently do this with our own kids. We stop at telling them ‘I love you’ and never invite them to explore the adult extension of that truth, even as they enter their teens. This affects them one of two ways. Either they get upset and potentially reject our life truths (because they see the limitations we won’t discuss!) OR they remain emotional children in adult bodies, still wanting the world to rotate entirely around them.
Both these fail our children. Here’s what I reckon the healthy extensions of those life truths are as our kids head into youth and beyond – at least if we want them to thrive:
Life truths…teenage extension versions
1.You are loved…become complete by loving others back
People never, ever grow out of the need to be loved and in relationships of significance. But expecting to always be on the receiving end of love’s very childish. Yet, some of us want just that – and find sneaky ways of trying to force it.
Mature people recognise both the risk and reward of loving another person. They give out, sometimes before they get back, and certainly when someone’s loving them. For all the challenges inherent in relationships, this is where the reward truly comes. Self-fulfilled people are generous givers and not just takers.
Having been loved, you love others back. How can you help your teenager learn to do that well?
2. You matter…and so do seven billion others
Given the wonderful attention babies get, it’s no wonder they think the world rotates around them. It’s how life rolls when you’re tiny. We’re all for every child feeling significant, because they are. But there’s a catch. For everyone to feel great, we all have to matter!
By implication, we need to learn to share. The attention, the perks, the giving and taking. Nobody’s born with self-control, just the capacity for it!
Quashing the desire for everything to be about you takes time and concerted carer effort – but it’s the only way to build a happy world for everyone. How can you parent this adjustment in?
3. You are gifted…build on that to benefit us all
Thinking we’re special and unique adds to our sense of importance – but as a child grows it should do more than that. It should also form the basis for learning how to belong in a group (by making a contribution) and contribute to the world at large.
Despite our childish beliefs, being gifted isn’t just for your personal benefit. It should profit the world too. And that takes effort. Encourage your kids, ‘Don’t be slack. This is a responsibility as well as a right. Work hard to get really good at your thing, and share it with us.’
Bottom line question? No one else in the world can be you or make the same contribution. What will you offer the rest of us?
And about the world at large…
Beyond those personal truths, there’s further adjustments for a young person’s thinking:
4. The world is good…but life has it’s challenges
Not surprisingly, this is one of the life truths we don’t have to work too hard in drawing our kids towards! But helping them do this well is challenging!
Neither extreme pessimists nor extreme optimists have the full picture. An adult view of life acknowledges the reality of both good and bad elements, easy and hard moments in time.
Help your growing young adults find ways to re-frame the tough stuff but don’t let them deny it. At the end of the day, though, happiness comes down to your frame of mind. Optimism, as I’ve said, can be learned and practiced.
People can find ways to stop noticing the black clouds and see what’s good around them – even in life’s challenging moments.
5. We care for your safety…but people mess up
Given we parents are ordinary humans, no child raising’s ever flawless. We make mistakes, just like the rest of the world. And sometimes they put our kids at risk.
Let a kid roll off the bed? Tick. Lost your temper and yelled at them? Yep. Let them go a bit too early on the bike/playground/trampoline? Yes. We’ve all done versions of these, sometimes without negative consequences and sometimes with them.
The older a child gets, the more they notice your flaws – and those of the world around them. If you want them to live with any grace, teach them how to deal with that. Help them learn the art of forgiveness as well as saying sorry themselves. Encourage them to work to be a safe person and create safe environments for others.
Then teach them how not to take offence at everything. Please.
You are loved and unique. Life is good but life is difficult. You’re important but not that important. You should get – but you should also give. The more you allow these truths of life to stretch and grow along with your child, the healthier they’ll be and the better relationships they’ll have. Not just with you, but their friends and future partners, and the world at large. Doesn’t that sound worth throwing some effort behind?