As a young mother, I protected my kids fiercely. Like any good mama, I thought it was better to shield my kids from the harsh reality of the world rather than allow them to face the honest truth of it all. I (like most mothers) didn’t want my kids to know how scary and broken this world can be. I wanted to paint a perfect picture in their heads – complete with butterflies, rainbows and happily-ever-afters…but that isn’t reality. And while it sounds nice, as my kids got older I realized it wasn’t a good thing if I never allowed them to know what is REALLY going on. If I never shared with them the raw (age-appropriate) details and allowed them to ask questions, process and explore their own reality. In fact, I was doing a disservice by not teaching them to how to deal with the “hard” in life. I knew if I didn’t start while they were young, they would be unable to handle the REAL problems that would surely arise as they grew up!
Recently my kids had to go through a “hard” in life, and while it was painful for all of us, I was amazed at how well they coped when I was totally honest (again, age-appropriately) with them. I didn’t tell them everything was going to turn out well with rainbows and butterflies, but I did make sure they knew how loved they are and that they could come to their dad and me no matter what, with any question. It wasn’t easy, but through this “hard” we’ve faced as a family, I’ve learned a few essential lessons which have made things easier; any maybe they can help you one day, too.
1) Be Honest
One of the worst things parents can do is to ignore what is going on and hope the child will too. Children thrive when there is open and honest communication. It makes them feel safe and secure about the future, regardless of the outcome. You may notice your kids’ behavior improving after you start getting real with them. It sounds counterproductive, but sometimes kids act out to gain a sense of control. When we are honest with them, they don’t feel so helpless – tell them the truth, on their age level.
2) Allow Them The Freedom To Express Their Emotions
Kids need to know their emotions are safe and normal. Kids will pretend they are okay because they don’t know how (or aren’t allowed) to express their emotions. Teach them their emotions are okay. It is okay to be angry, it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be confused, it’s okay to feel lonely, etc. Our society confuses our children by teaching us that anger is wrong, boys shouldn’t cry, and girls should strong & independent. But what happens when they don’t feel that way? What happens when your son needs to cry or your daughter feels angry? Where do they turn? They need a safe place to express how they are feeling, and that place should be their home.
3) Teach Them How To Set Good Boundaries
Boundaries are hard for adults, let alone kids! But, if we teach our kids the basics about setting good boundaries now, they will grow into much healthier teens and adults. Boundaries are all about what we will and won’t allow into OUR lives – not changing others. When a child is going through something hard, it can be easy for them to want to please others and conform to whatever makes others around them happy. This isn’t always the healthiest thing for them to do. Teach them its okay to say no (even to a parent) if the situation is pushing them past their boundary line.
4) Give Them An Outlet: Counseling, Sports, Church
Let’s face it, although we parents would like to think we’re the End All when it comes to teaching our kids and helping them through life, the reality is, we’re not. Nor should we be! Sometimes our kids will be much more willing to open up to someone who isn’t tied into the problem. Whether it is their youth pastor, soccer coach or a children’s counselor, it is important to know when to stand back and allow them the freedom to talk to someone else. Sometimes they will open up more at home after they’ve been encouraged to open up to a trusted adult.
5) Hug Them, Love Them, & Accept Them Daily
Even when they are being a total pain in the rear, at the end of the day our kids need to know they are loved and accepted just the way they are. A simple hug, kiss on the head, and an “I love you” several times a day goes a long way in showing them how much you care. As parents, we assume our kids know we love them and we also probably assume we hug them enough. But, I’d bet if you count, the number would be lower than you think.
This is especially true for older kids! It gets WAY harder when they don’t want you to hug and kiss them. DO IT ANYWAY! Put a reminder in your phone, write it down or do whatever you have to so you don’t forget!
There are many things in life that are hard. Death, divorce, addiction, and bullying are just some of the many difficult issues we may have to help our children tackle at one point in their lives or another. But, if we start talking to our kids early about the small stuff, giving them the skills to cope and work through whatever they’re facing, when the hard stuff comes, they will feel confident, safe, and secure! And they’ll know what to do! So, don’t be afraid to be honest, be open and share with your kids – it may do more for you then you realize.