Raising Emotionally Successful Children
This e-book includes wisdom, excerpts, advice, research, and stories from both parents and experts in how you can help your children learn the importance and value of their emotions as well as others. We believe that raising emotionally successful children is directly related the the emotional state of the parents, which is why we begin discussing YOU, the parent. This includes having an understanding of yourself, your triggers, and your needs. Next, we share about emotion-coaching as well as teaching empathy. We find that often values drive reactions to emotions, which is why we include how to teach your children the importance of responsibility, truth, and forgiveness. Processing is another important aspect to emotionally successful children, and as such we have included stories and excerpts about the importance of boredom and mindfulness for your children. We suggest that after every chapter, you take some time to reflect, and look at how the chapter applies to your life. What can you take away? What can you share with others? We hope you gain inspiration, tips, and encouragement from this book.
Table of Contents
You, The Parent
1. You, The Parent
First and most importantly, to raise emotionally successful children, you need to take a look at yourself. You, the parent. We had the privilege to interview Jordan Arnold, a single mother to 8 children, and she offered insight from her recent divorce as well as her experiences of raising 8 children.
Discover your emotional health & understanding
Jordan shares from her experiences how she strives to meet her children's emotional needs. "Well, you cannot help your children's emotional needs if you are not emotionally healthy." Do you know the status of your own emotional health? You can personally reflect as well as get more professional insight. Experts are just that—experts! Their job is to look deeper and see things that you yourself may not recognise. Sometimes it is easier to hear insight from a professional versus someone close to you. Jordan shares, "It was important to me to go to counselling. I started therapy in early to mid 2015 and continue to go weekly. Just working on myself, healing myself. And having two years of weekly consistent education. Now I'm at the place where I can understand my own un-health and that helps me help my children." Awareness of your own emotional health and taking steps to grow is key to your child's emotional success..
Seek help, wisdom & guidance
Life becomes so much richer when you share it with wise people and seek help and guidance in the midst of difficult times. Jordan shares that in the midst of her traumatic divorce she chooses to seek wisdom from godly people which helps her keep the right perspective. "I've surrounded myself with really good wise, godly people they constantly offer godly advice and godly wisdom."
For those who have a faith in God, seeking help and wisdom from Him offers another source of support and guidance. Jordan shares how her relationship with God is crucial to meeting her children's needs. Especially her connection to God through prayer. Jordan says, "I pray that God would show me opportunities even in the midst of chaos. Help me zone in on one thing that somebody says or somebody does that's not right and that I need to focus on and God is faithful to do that. And He's also faithful to create spaces where I can spend time with children who are hurting and sometimes I look at my life and say God there's no time. there's no time for me to one-on-one with anybody and He creates those spaces. And He creates that time. God is just so good to make sure that I have everything I need for this really hard thing called single parenting. And single parenting through a very. very contentious divorce where the kids are not necessarily being shielded from all that they should be shielded from."
Be kind how you talk about others
How you talk about others, even those who might have wronged you, affects your children's perspective. We asked Jordan, how do you talk with your children through this divorce and through this difficult time? "We try not to talk about their dad. We try not to have conversations about their dad unless they bring them up. It was always kind of like a must for me from day one to not run their dad down to them. I saw their dad and their mental health and their emotional health directly related and to attack their dad would be to attack who they are. And so I've been very intentional about just not going there.
Be vulnerable & real
We asked Jordan, "Are you very open as a person with your children or do you keep things in?" In the beginning of her divorce, Jordan struggled with how to share her emotions with her children. She said, "one thing people have continued to say to me is they will see truth when God chooses to let them see truth, so my job is just letting them know that I'm hurt, but also being strong enough—and that's another thing that I've had to learn recently is—I had made a decision at some point that I wasn't going to let them see me hurt at all. And I think that ended up translating into I was bulletproof and I felt like I was starting to look a little cold. The Lord told me in prayer once that I needed to fall apart more often in front of them and it scared me because I didn't want them to think that they were not safe if they had an emotionally crazy mom! But it's been fine and I've been intentional about letting them see more of my humanity. I was crying the other day and one of my daughters says I've never seen you cry before! That's been a challenge for me to let more of my humanity show to them and not try to protect them from everything. I've always been so concerned with not sheltering them and showing them all the ugliness of this world so that they could be compassionate people but in the midst I kind of guarded myself and I didn't allow my output to be as organic as it needed to be—so that's what I'm learning right now—I'm learning how to better show them that I hurt too and that I'm not perfect and I'm not, you know, superwoman. I'm a very flawed human being who needs God every second of every day." This doesn't mean that as a parent you let your children in on every detail, but let them see just enough to learn for themselves that emotions are real, and raw, and important to take care of.
No matter where you are at in your parenting, it is never too late (or too early) to reflect on yourself and evaluate your own emotional health. Although you can reflect personally and with your spouse or close friends, it also may benefit you to seek professional evaluation as well. If you have ever flown before, you know that in case of an emergency, you are to first put oxygen on yourself, and then you can help others. Emotional health is the same. Take care of yourself first, so you can take care of your children. And remember, no parent is perfect. That's why we need each other and can depend on others' wisdom and if you have a faith in God, you can depend on His guidance. When life is not easy, and people mistreat you, use it as an opportunity to teach your children kindness and compassion. Let your children see your hurt, your struggles, your process, and you will teach your children that emotions matter—both yours and others. Being aware of your own emotions and how they affect you and others around you, will give you perspective in how to handle your emotions as well as how to coach your children with their emotions. Our next chapter takes a deeper look at emotion-coaching.
Emotion-Coaching. That's for professionals, right? Nope, not just for professionals. It's for all parents too! You can learn how to be an Emotion-Coach to your child. Just like coaching sports, the more experience and knowledge you have yourself, the better you will be able to coach. It takes time. Commitment. Engagement. Perseverance. Patience. The skills you use and teach as an Emotional-Coach are important for the lifelong success of your child.
According to John Gottman, research shows that children whose parents practiced Emotion-Coaching have better physical health, score higher academically, get along better with peers, have fewer behaviour problems, and are less prone to acts of violence. Overall, these children experience fewer negative feelings and more positive feelings. In fact, these children are more resilient. They still get sad, angry or scared, but are better able to soothe themselves and bounce back from distress. Overall, these children are more emotionally intelligent.
How do you begin Emotion-Coaching? John Gottman outlines 5 steps to take in his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.
5 steps to Emotion-Coaching:
1. Become aware of the child's emotion
2. Recognise the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
3. Listen empathetically, validating the child's feelings
4. Help the child find words to label the emotion
5. Set limits while exploring strategies to solve the problem
Awareness is key.
Emotion-Coaching parents have a strong awareness of their own emotions and those of their loved ones. They recognise that all emotions--even those we might consider negative, such as sadness, anger, and fear--can serve a useful purpose in our lives.
Emotion-Coaching does not mean an end to discipline.
When you and your children are emotionally close, you are even more invested in their lives and can assert a stronger influence. You are tough when necessary. You call them out on their mistakes or when they are slacking. You're not afraid to set limits. You're not afraid to tell them you are disappointed and when you know they can do better. Because you have an emotional bond with your children, your words matter. Emotion-Coaching helps you guide and motivate your children.
Conflict is a fact of family life.
Once you start using Emotion-Coaching, you will probably feel yourself growing closer to your children. When your family shares a deeper intimacy and respect, problems between family members will seem lighter to bear. Although it may seem uncomfortable at times, stay in the process, the rewards long term are definitely worth it!
There are many Emotion-Coaching strategies Gottman discusses in his book. These strategies are summarised below, but for more reading, stories, tests, resources, click here to purchase Gottman's book.
Avoid excessive criticism, humiliating comments, or mocking your child. Research shows that such derogation is destructive to parent-child communication and to the child's self esteem.
Use "scaffolding" and praise to coach your child. If you want to teach a new skill, scaffolding is an effective way of coaching children. Scaffolding includes these steps: first, talk in a slow, calm manner, giving the child just enough information to get started. Then wait for the child to do something right and offer specific praise for their action. Next, add just a little more instruction. Finally, repeat the steps, so the child learns the skill in increments. With each small success, the parents boost the child's confidence, helping them reach the next level of competence.
Ignore your "parental agenda". A "parental agenda" is a goal based on a particular problem the parent has identified interfering with the child's best interests. The parental agenda often prevents parents from listening empathetically to their children. Postpone talking about a child's misdeed until after the feelings underlying the misbehaviour have been addressed. Avoid asking, "Why did you do that?" Avoid labelling your child. Avoid general, enduring critiques. Focus on correcting specific events in the here and now.
Create a mental map of your child's daily life. A mental map is to know a lot about the people, places, and events in your child's life. By knowing this, you can explore the possible sources of your child's feelings and help your child label them. You will also show them their world is important to you and this will help them feel closer to you. This requires a lot of work, attention to detail, and need to be updated regularly.
Empower your child by giving choices, respecting wishes. Children need practice weighing options, finding solutions. They need to see what happens when they make choices based on the family's value system; what happens when they choose to ignore family standards. These lessons are sometimes painful, but powerful opportunities for guidance.
Avoid siding with the enemy. It can be a challenge especially if you naturally align with the authority figures your kids will cross--teachers, coaches, bosses, or other kids' parents. What if you are the enemy? You can still be empathic without changing your mind. "I understand why you're mad. I'd feel the same way if I was in your position." Honesty and open-mindedness in the face of conflict may encourage your child to express their feelings as well. The goal of your conversation is not to seek agreement, but to communicate understanding.
Think about your child's experiences in terms of similar adult situations. Do not trivialise or ignore their concerns. This response makes your child feel worse. Instead, try to form a more sympathetic frame of mind. Think how you would feel if the situation were similar to an adult situation.
Don't try to impose your solution on your child's problems. To propose solutions before you empathise with children is like trying to build the frame of a house before you lay a firm foundation. Empathise first.
Share in your child’s dreams and fantasies. This helps in understanding your child and ultimately makes being empathetic easier. The important thing is that your child knows you have heard them by confirming them and their desires. This doesn’t mean you need to fulfill their dreams, but you can help them brainstorm how to get something they dream of, like that new bike.
Be honest with your child. Most children seem to know when you are telling the truth or when you are faking it. As an emotional coach, your heart must be in it, otherwise you will lose credibility. If you don’t understand, reflect back what you see and hear, ask questions, and keep communicating.
Read children’s literature together. From infancy to adolescence, reading high-quality age appropriate books can help parents and kids learn about emotions. Stories help build vocabulary and illustrate different ways people handle their emotions. Watching TV and movies provides a similar opportunity, but books allow you to stop and reflect in the moment.
Be patient with the process. To be effective in your coaching, allow your child time to express their feelings without becoming impatient. It might be uncomfortable but remember the goal is to explore and understand emotions, not to suppress them. It might seem easier to dismiss and ignore but that will eventually create a distance between you and your child. Try to feel what your child is feeling at the moment and experience your shared emotions as a physical sensation. Gottman compares this to the way you might allow a piece of music to stir up your emotions, feeling excited, sad, passionate, inspired. By doing this, you can more easily say you understand. And sometimes you don’t need words, just to sit with them, quietly, with a hug or a back rub. By doing this, you create moments and opportunities that others might miss.
Understand your base of power as a parent. This means limits on misbehavior—what all kids want and need. For some parents, the base of power is threats, humiliation, and spanking. Others who are permissive, may feel they have no base of power. For those parents who are Emotion-coaching, the base of power is the emotional bond between parent and child. Limit setting comes out of your genuine reactions to your child’s misbehavior. Your child responds to your anger, disappointment, worries, so you don’t have to resort to negative consequences. The respect and affection become your primary vehicle for limit setting.
Believe in the positive nature of human development. Children’s brains are naturally wired to seek security and love, knowledge and understanding. Your child wants to be affectionate and altruistic. They want to explore the environment and discover how things work. They want to know about good and bad, dangers and how to avoid them. They want to become strong and capable. Your child wants to be the kind of person you will admire and love. Trust in your child’s feelings and know that you are not alone.
There are some situations which are NOT effective to use Emotion-Coaching. Parents need to be focused and calm and children need to be somewhat receptive for emotion coaching to be effective. Situations where it might be best to postpone Emotion-Coaching include:
When pressed for time
When you have an audience
When you are too upset or too tired for coaching to be effective
When you need to address serious misbehavior
When your child is ’faking’ an emotion to manipulate you
When you decide to postpone Emotion-Coaching, make a commitment to yourself and your child to get back to the issue soon, and follow through.
In conclusion, it is important to mention that making time to talk about emotions does not "indulge" or "spoil" a child, rather it validates their feelings and creates a trusting relationship. It is NOT a magic formula that eliminates conflict and the need for limits. It creates a collaborative relationship for solving problems together. When your children have a problem, they will come to you because they know you really listen. Your investment in Emotion-Coaching now, will create a foundation for success in your child that will follow them the rest of their lives.
Emotion-Coaching as a parent is a new concept to me. It is not something I experienced growing up, nor did my husband, Patrik. We both have a commitment to learn and practice Emotion-Coaching as parents to our son. As I reflect on my own emotional journey, I can see how friends, mentors, and counsellors have played a role as Emotion-Coaches for me. Perhaps the biggest Emotion-Coach in my life right now is Patrik. He sees me in my best and my worst emotions. He also helps me to become aware of emotions and express them in our relationship, or when he sees me losing patience with our son. With each opportunity to invest in the emotional health of our son, I am laying one more brick on the foundation of his success later on in life. That is an encouraging thought! We are all on a journey, learning along the way, ultimately passing on a legacy to our children.
Do you see yourself as an Emotion-Coach to your children? Which of the Emotion-Coaching strategies have you already been practicing? Which of them would you like to put into practice this week? What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being an Emotion-Coach to your children?
One of the central aspects of emotions involves empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, to try to understand how they are thinking and feeling, and to value other opinions. Can children learn to see someone else’s perspective? Is that even possible? Psychologist Samantha Rodman says it is possible, even for toddlers to start learning. Here are some ways to help cultivate empathy:
1. CREATE AN AWARENESS ABOUT EMOTIONS
It is important to help children first become aware of their feelings, and your own, by putting them into words. You could say for example, ”I see you are frustrated when you can’t find the puzzle piece.” or ”Mama felt happy when Pappa brought flowers home.”
2. READ BOOKS AND WATCH TV/MOVIES TOGETHER
Reading books together is not only important for language development, but it also gives the opportunity to talk about what is happening with the character’s feelings in the story. The same is true with TV and movies. The storyline often involves challenges and victories which offer great opportunity to talk about emotions. For example, "Nemo looked nervous going to school for the first time, but how do you think he felt after he made friends?"
3. AFTER CONFLICTS DISCUSS THE FEELINGS THAT AROSE
While children are fighting is not the moment to talk about feelings. It is best to separate children and talk to them individually about their feelings so they can learn how to express their needs in a more constructive way. For example, ”You seemed frustrated that Jonny took your train without asking. Maybe that is why you hit him. It’s not ok to hit, maybe next time you can say, I was playing with the train then, but if you ask I’ll share it with you when I’m done with it.”
4. BE AN EXAMPLE OF HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICTS
It is healthy for children of all ages to see parents discuss, argue, compromise and resolve conflict. It is important to keep the tones and words in control and model conflict resolution. It is healthy for children to see when parents make up after the argument as well. Also how to admit wrongs, ask for forgiveness and forgive. If children see this modeled, they will learn themselves how it is possible to engage in healthy conflict resolution. It is important for children to see how people can love each other even if they disagree. For example, "I know you have had a long day at work, and missed dinner time with us. I will do the dishes tonight so you can have some quality time with the kids before they go to bed."
5. SPEAK FOR THOSE WHO CAN’T SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
Look for opportunities to put words on the emotions of others who can't speak for themselves. For example, when there is a baby crying, you can ask, "Why do you think that baby is crying? Maybe it's hungry or tired?" Pets are also a great example, "Why is that doggie's tail wagging? Maybe she is happy to see the other dog."
6. SHOW RESPECT AMIDST DIFFERENCES
Children are naturally curious and tend to ask questions about anything that catches their interest. If they see a person in a wheelchair for example, and if they ask about it, don't try to quiet them, rather suggest talking with that person to find out how they are more similar than different.
In summary, children are constantly watching their parents, caregivers, and teachers learning behavior. It is important we, as parents, caregivers, and teachers model empathy. This means when we are are at the grocery store and someone cuts in line. Or when your spouse had a long day and forgot to pick up some eggs on their way home. We must choose to forgive. Or if we mess up and lose our temper. We must admit our wrong and ask for forgiveness. Even from our children.
This article is adapted from Samantha Rodman's article, How To Teach Kids Empathy.
How have you effectively taught your children empathy? What is the most challenging aspect in modelling empathy? Are there other ways you have found to cultivate empathy in your family?
Along with managing emotions and cultivating empathy, teaching your children to be responsible increases their self-esteem and sense of worth and value as they learn to contribute to a larger society. Teaching responsibility involves at the very core empathy--to consider others as well as your own needs. Think about this for a moment... What is the ultimate goal with parenting? Is it to raise individuals who do what their parents say, behave properly, conform to their parents rules, and contribute to society out of duty? Although all of these outcomes are good in theory, they lack the correct motivation behind them. Dr. William Sears suggests, the goal with parenting is to enable our children to live without us. It is paradoxical. The goal is to see our children become confident, responsible, self-sufficient, and interdependent individuals with values that guide them throughout life. This means we guide our children in their decision making process, enabling them to become self-motivated, with an understanding that they are part of a greater social system and their decisions affect others--this is what it means to become a responsible member of society.
Raising responsible children begins with infancy and continues until adulthood. There are key factors which help build a sense of responsibility in children throughout various stages--Infants, Toddlers, Primary School, Teenagers. The learning from each stage builds upon the previous one, until your child has reached independence and self-sufficiency. Although this is a general guideline, be sensitive to your child's learning and development, some may grow faster, while others take a bit longer. Remember, you as a parent are the facilitator of this learning. Your ultimate goal is to enable them to become a confident, self-sufficient, interdependent person.
According to Dr. Sears, the earliest lessons in responsibility come from parents who are responsive to their children's needs. "Parents who respond appropriately to their children are likely to raise responsible kids. Why? Responsiveness becomes the norm for these children, teaching them that people should treat others in a responsible way." Ironically, it is the infants' dependency which lays the groundwork for future self-sufficiency. When you respond to your baby's cries, you are affirming their feelings and needs, ultimately teaching them to trust in oneself. This trust becomes the foundation of being trustworthy later in life. Being responsive to your child's needs shows them their voice and actions are important.
Toddlers have a growing awareness of self and independency. Wise parents allow their toddlers to practice their emerging skills as much as possible in a safe environment. Your role as a parent is to function as a facilitator, you set up the situation so your child can learn and make things happen. Encouraging your child to try new things, fall down (safely), and get back up and try again is a lesson in responsibility. Toddlers are learning how to manage their own bodies--sitting, crawling, walking, running, jumping, feeding themselves, brushing teeth, potty training, etc... You can't force your child to learn these skills, you can create the setting for your child to learn. Experimentation is key. They will make messes. They will have accidents. It is important we remain positive, encouraging, and supportive throughout each moment of learning responsibility and independence.
TODDLERS - PRIMARY SCHOOL
"Teach them early, then trust them later," says Dr. Sears. The hard work you put forth in guiding your childrenwill pay off later. From toddlers to teenagers, there are key elements which help create a sense of responsibility. Those include chores and responsibilities, accountability, and life-management skills. The tasks, expectations, and skills vary according to age and build upon previous learning with each new stage.
CHORES & RESPONSIBILITIES
Each member of the family needs chores and responsibilities. Chores help develop a sense ofsignificance as part of the family 'team.' Responsibilities help children feel useful and needed, and will help them take care of their own home one day. Sharing in responsibilities facilitates accountability, self-confidence and helpfulness. According to Dr. Sears, household responsibilities help to:
Create a sense of ownership, attachment and thus respect for the home.
Encourage skill development and lifetime learning opportunities.
Teach accountability for and consequences of their actions.
Equip them to live and work with others after they leave home.
Foster a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Teach interdependence and belonging within a bigger system.
Teach that everyone is expected to contribute to the well-being of the family.
How do you divide the tasks and responsibilities?
Here are some things to consider:
Activities according to their age and stage:
Ages 1-2: Scrub with water, use sponges/brushes, rinse dishes, clean sinks/tubs, dusting
Ages 3-4: Sorting laundry into dark/lights, vacuuming, sweeping, setting the table
Ages 5-6 Start washing the dishes, loading/unloading the dishwasher, washing the car
Ages 7-8: Start cooking or helping prepare one meal a week, helping select groceries
Ages 9-10: Mow the lawn, help fix things around the house
What the child is already interested in and match the chores to the child.
Give special jobs to each child.
Create job charts, letting them choose tasks, and rotate if they want.
Plant a family garden, learning to sow, water, pull weeds, and harvest.
Do jobs along with your children, work side by side, together.
Learning to be accountable for your actions is is an important part of one's development. When a child is held accountable for their actions, they are learning that their behaviour has consequences, both for themselves and others. They learn what it means to depend on one another, through interdependency. Being accountable is an important aspect of belonging to a family, a social group, and a community.
How do you teach accountability?
Establish simple family rules for the safety and benefit of everyone.
Teach children to take responsibility for their actions early on.
Don't accept irresponsible excuses, excuses are a sign of immaturity.
Establish routines so children remember how and when to do tasks.
Expect them to be accountable for the consequences of their mistakes.
Praise and encourage right behaviour.
The goal of parenting is to teach your children to live without you, which includes teaching them skills to manage their lives--both present and future. These skills include, but are not limited to: thinking and planning ahead, managing finances, time-management resources, organisational skills, and every day skills. As a parent, you have a very important role of teaching and modelling life-management skills that will help your children become responsible adults.
How do you teach important life-management skills?
Teach children to think and plan ahead.
Teach them to wait and have patience.
Instill a long-term perspective.
Equip them to make sacrifices in the present for a better future.
Help them create a plan to earn money and save for a big item they want.
Teach children about managing finances.
The importance of saving.
How to spend money responsibly.
The importance of staying out of debt.
The importance of giving.
How to plan for retirement.
Teach time-management and organisational skills, depending on age and personality.
Weekly/Monthly calendar on the wall
Daily planner book
With more privileges come greater responsibilities.
As your child grows older, their responsibilities grow.
As they are given more privileges, you expect them to be more responsible.
Privilege: Walking to/from park alone. Responsibility: Be home at promised time.
Equip children with life skills.
You have opportunities to teach your children life skills nearly every day, involve them in age-appropriate tasks.
These tasks include: cooking, sewing, changing a lightbulb, fixing things around the house, changing a tire on the car, unclogging the drain, etc...
How you view your own responsibilities has an affect on how your children live up to their responsibilities.
Focus on the positive aspects of your job, so your children come to see responsibility as a normal part of adult life.
Parents can probably agree that the most important goals of childhood are healthy development and education. What about work? According to Dr. Sears, studies show that employment during teenage years has both negative and positive effects. Consequently, there are a number of factors to consider when it comes to teenagers and work. You need to find out why they want to work, why should they work, how does work impact their current studies, what kinds of jobs they should have, and how many hours should they work.
Why do they want to work?
Parents need to determine the right reasons for working and check their motives behind working:
Is it to save long-term, for a car or university studies?
Is it to learn life skills?
Is it to have personal spending money to satisfy the need for materialistic things?
Is it to gain independence?
Work together with your child to determine if their motives are right and discuss the importance of saving and planning for long-term, not just short-term, instant gratification purposes.
Why should they work?
There are several benefits with teenagers who experience a positive work environment:
gain skills and training
learn productivity in society
learn interpersonal skills and how to work in a team
work with problem-solving skills
experience the importance of punctuality and time-management
gain customer service skills
learning budget and money management
productive use of time vs. unproductive use of free time (screen time, gaming, shopping)
How does work impact their current studies?
The reality is, when a teenager spends time at work, they will have less time for studies. According to Dr. Sears, students who work more than 20 hours per week have high levels of stress and decreased investment in their studies. However, studies show that students working between 15-20 hours per week have higher grade point averages compared to non-working peers. Discuss the importance of time management, right priorities, and a healthy work-life balance.
What kind of job should they have?
The type of job affects the risks and benefits of working. Consider these factors:
Does the job have proper safety training and supervision?
Could there be any long-term physical risks of the job?
Does my child have proper judgement and wisdom to handle the risks of the job?
What are their working hours?
Consider the legal limit for working hours. In many countries, the law protects teens from working too many hours, too early, or too late. As previously stated, working over 20 hours per week has shown to have negative affects on teenagers. Discuss with your child about what a healthy work experience looks like, the importance of their rights, setting boundaries, and saying no to working too many hours.
Raising a responsible child requires you as a parent to have the mindset of legacy. What legacy are you creating? Think beyond your lifetime. Your investment now, has the potential to benefit generations to come, and impact thousands of lives. The time, commitment, patience, and guidance you are investing now in your children, will affect not only them, but their children's children and the lives around them.
Looking back on your own life, what experiences helped teach you responsibility? What factors contributed to your sense of confidence, independence and self-sufficiency? Think about people in your family or others you knew who left a lasting legacy. What was it about them that made an impact upon your life?
Teaching children about the value of truth is an important part of emotion-coaching and teaching responsibility. Without honesty and truth, there would be no real exchange of emotions. Learning to tell the truth, model the truth, and live out your own truth is also teaching children how to be responsible with words, actions, and values.
But where do we begin to teach children about the truth? Nancy Harmon shares her wisdom in the following story about her granddaughter.
"Costumes were hung on the clothing rack at the department store. As I enter the store with my three-year-old granddaughter, she exclaims, "LOOK AT ALL THOSE DRESSES! I probably could get one!”-- “I could probably get one with wings!”
Because the word “No” in Nana’s vocabulary is non-existent, she chose a bright green princess butterfly dress with wings. My granddaughter says; "Nana, you'll have to hold my hand so I don't fall." I quickly realize what she meant. She was telling me to hold her hand so she did not fall while flying with her wings.
I smiled on the inside. Her innocence and pure delight brought joy to my soul. I went on to share with her, that the wingson the costumes were not real. These wings were pretend. It didn't take long for me to see the look of disappointment spread across her face. The first thought that went through my mind was: "Oh no! I just ruined her excitement by telling her the truth!" My second thought was: "Uh-oh" She does not fully comprehend the difference between what is real and what is pretend."
WHAT AGE DO WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TRUTH OF WHAT IS REAL AND WHAT IS PRETEND?
I would recommend beginning as soon as your child’s verbal skills are developed.
The conversation with my granddaughter went something like this: “Birds & insects were created with wings, while people were created with arms and legs.” She was intrigued to hear the truth. I had her attention….
HOW DO WE IMPART TRUTH TO OUR CHILDREN?
We can simply begin with being honest and truthful with our children from the beginning. Both the toddler and preschool years are the best time to impart truth. Did you know that children under the age of four years of age are unable to discern between what is truth and what is not? Everything in their world is perceived as truth. It is our responsibility as parents to create a safe environment to nurture and teach what truth is or is not, based on our core values. In our home truth and healthy communication is a value that we try to impart at a young age.
Once a truth has been revealed you can begin by asking your child a thought provoking question. For example: What do you think can fly with wings? “Butterflies” What are ways that people can fly? “In an airplane” Are superheroes real? “Hmm?” This question took us back to the original lesson of truth: Who can fly? Who are some real superheroes?“Grandpa, is a real superhero!” Why is that? “because he is in the army, he saves people's lives.” The next thing we know, we are on an adventure seeking even more truth. We found ourselves reading books and sharing about birds, butterflies, airplanes and superheroes.
As parents begin to release truth in the lives of their children, it will allow their child to walk in freedom to be who they were created to become.
Often times the truth makes us aware of how we are wrong. We make mistakes. Our children make mistakes. We are human. We are all in need of forgiveness. It is SO important that both we as parents model forgiveness. With ourselves, our spouse, our friends, our children, and strangers. Forgiveness is freeing. Forgiveness is healthy. Forgiveness is essential. Jordan Arnold, a single Mom to 8 children shares wisdom from her years of experience as a parent. She shares about the importance of forgiveness in her interview with us. Here's what she said.
"Forgive your children. Forgive them for the constant ways--and this is a big issue for me because I tend to be a perfectionist--when I teach my children something and they don’t display it back to me. That’s very hard for me. I taught you better than that, that’s not the way you were raised. To walk in constant forgiveness. This goes down to the 1 year-old who just dumped the Cheerios all over the floor to the 15 year-old who talked to you like you are lower than the scum of the earth. Forgive them and walk in constant forgiveness knowing that this season of their lives is short, and what you are working on is long-term.
If you can just cultivate and love them now, if you can capture their hearts now, you will have it down the road when they are not crazy anymore, when they’re not everywhere, when they’re not at each other’s throats, not colouring over the hundred dollar sheets you just bought. The right now is worth it. And it’s ok. It’s going to be ok. The long-term is what you’re working for. We’re not working for instant perfection right now. We’re working for down the road when everything is settled. The work you do now will be seen down the road. Just be in right now. Enjoy right now. Love right now. Forgive right now."
Harbouring unforgiveness is a very dark, weary, and lonely road to go down. Forgiveness requires awareness of yourself and the situation, to rightly assess right and wrong actions. Secondly, it requires humility, to be willing to admit you were wrong. Quite often in an argument, when one person admits their wrong, it is easier for the other person to admit their wrongs as well. Thirdly, it requires action. You must act on that forgiveness. You may not always feel like forgiving, but go with what you know to be right, not what you might feel. You need to act upon forgiveness, show love, grace, and mercy. Look them in the eye when you tell them you forgive them. Offer a hug. Tell them how much you love them. Forgiveness is healing. It can heal past wounds and hurts, from generations back. Forgiveness has the potential to impact future generations to come as well. Forgive and let go. Allow yourself and your child to walk in the freedom of grace, love, truth, and mercy.
Space. Time. Boredom. Children need these to develop their sense of self, to discover, experience, and process their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Space for thinking. Time for processing. Boredom for imagination. Boredom is rare in the fast-paced world we are surrounded by today. Even more so, today’s generation of children are growing up in a fast-paced, self-serving, instant-gratification world. Think of life a hundred years ago, where there was no such thing as 'screen time' or 'virtual reality'. Life was simple. Life was play. Life was relational. Nature was life’s playground. Imagination was free. Author of the book 'The More of Less', Joshua Becker, argues that the less toys children have, the more it will benefit them in the future.
BELOW ARE SOME POSITIVE REASONS FOR LESSENING THE TOYS IN OUR CHILDREN'S LIVES:
Kids become more creative
Kids develop longer attention spans
Kids develop more socially
Kids learn to take better care of things
Kids appreciate reading, writing, art
Kids become more resourceful
Kids learn to collaborate more
Kids learn perseverance
Kids learn appreciation
Kids explore more nature
Kids learn contentment
Kids live in a cleaner environment
Children are led by example. This might mean you need to put down your phone. Refrain from capturing the moment on video or camera, and focus on capturing the image for your internal memory bank. Turn off the TV, tablet, or laptop. It will probably do you some good to clear your mind. It will be challenging. There will probably be withdrawals. Start with an hour and maybe you can work up to a whole day, once a week. If you are looking for further suggestions of how to encourage imagination and free-play, take a look at this article.
What happens if you allow your children to be bored? Have you discovered other positive reasons to live more simply? How do you find time in midst of the fast-paced world to enjoy the moment?
Mindfulness helps create space, time, and simplicity so that you can truly experience life in the moment. Mindfulness means staying present, in the moment, fully aware of your surroundings. Benn and Amber Stumph share from their experiences how they intentionally choose to be mindful in the midst of a tech crazy world and teach this to their children as well.
"Let me take your picture!"
Our five year-old paused at the request of his eight year-old sister, video camera in hand, and smiled. They had both been busy taking their own pictures of the historic town square they were in. It was early in the morning and there wasn't anyone else around, so with free reign to walk around they were taking pictures of whatever they wanted with a couple of old cameras. Both of our children had the tools necessary to create their own documentary, and mom and dad were right there to watch the whole thing.
“We decided that we were going to give ourselves permission to disconnect and instead stay off the grid during our entire vacation.”
We are constantly amazed at the speed of technology advances. What has happened in the last 20 years is really remarkable. For us, quite frankly, just keeping up is challenging enough. The speed of innovation is part of the reason our children ended up with the technology to create their own documentaries while on vacation. We had already owned the two older cameras that were obsolete, yet not even ten years old each. Allowing them to use them was an easy decision, since we hadn't picked them up in years. The second part of the reason was due to a decision we had made years earlier, while preparing for another vacation. Somehow, while talking about what we were going to bring with us, we decided that we were going to give ourselves permission to disconnect and instead stay off the grid during our entire vacation. Little did we know how much freedom this was going to bring to us. It changed our perspective on being connected, and taught us some valuable lessons about mindfulness, helping us to stay present in the moment and aware of the impact of technology around us.
Fast forward to our two young documentarians. They are impacted more by technology than we can imagine. In fact, our eight year-old came home from that vacation and created her own video compilation and uploaded it to an app so her teacher and classmates could watch it. Amazing! Our children already are and will continue to be surrounded by technology their entire lives. Our challenge as parents is making sure that we have an intentional perspective for how we help our children learn how to use technology effectively while not becoming controlled by it. By being intentional, we choose to be mindful, aware of the present. Thankful for what is the most important to us.
So how do we choose mindfulness and intentionally use technology to communicate and build relationships without destroying our closest relationships? We have decided as a family that technology cannot get in the way of the personal time that we have together. To do this we've developed a few tools over the years that we both agree to use to keep us in check. These tools help us to make sure that we are not allowing technology to hijack the time that we have with those who are the most important to us at any given moment - each other, and our kids. They help us stay present in the moment.
WHO ARE YOU INVITING INTO THE ROOM?
There's someone behind you! Just kidding. But how often do we let our phones interrupt whatever we were working on before a notification grabbed our attention? Would we let others walk up to us and interrupt us the same way if they were physically in the room?
One of the first tools that we began using in our home was asking each other this question: "Who did you just invite in to the room? To the table? Into the conversation?" Pretty simple, but it can be a very powerful tool. Especially for those of us who like taking care of things right away, responding instantly causes us to choose between who is more important in that moment. Is it the person that I was engaged with in the room I was in, or is it the person that sent me a text or called me at that time? Is the better choice for me to stay focused on the person I am with, or do I have margin and permission to respond to the person that I just invited in to the room with us by looking at the text I just received?
There are, of course, limitations to this tool. Sometimes it is necessary to respond to people who are contacting us and are not physically able to be in the room with us. This question allows us to keep a correct balance of our connection with those who are near and those who are not. When our technology controls us, we demonstrate to our children over and over again that the person on the other end of the line is more important, and the task of responding is the most important thing I need to do right now. In our experience, setting reasonable limits on technology helps us stay focused in the present moment with the ones dearest to us so we can fully enjoy our time together. By the way, this tool only works with a heavy dose of the next tool.
ASSUMING POSITIVE INTENT.
Take a second. Who loves you most, and is most on your side? It's probably the people that you text or call the most. So, how upset do you get when they don't return your call or text immediately? We have decided that we will allow each other the space to not be tethered to our phones. How? By assuming that my spouse hasn't fallen out of love with me in the last hour and that they will get back to me as soon as the task of responding to me outweighs the time that they are spending with the people they are with. We trust each other, and expect that we will focus our time on each other when we are together in person.
The ability to assume positive intent is a skill that needs to be developed in all of our lives, simply because it is really easy to wonder what someone wants from us, especially someone who hasn't spoken to us in a while. In our relationship, we both try to set aside time during our day to check in on our phones and see who is contacting us. This means that sometimes we miss a last minute invitation to something, or we miss out on the opportunity to have someone pick us up something at a store while they are out.
What we gain from the tradeoff, though, is the ability to create positive habits that benefit us and are demonstrating healthy behavior to our children.
Habits can be tricky to manage. If we want to get in to the habit of not having to drop everything when we hear a notification from our phone, then we have to act similarly every time it happens until the habit is developed. Assuming positive intent will give your spouse and children the space to develop healthy habits with technology and not be controlled by it.
FAMILY DAY - UNPLUGGED.
Finally, sometimes we just need to take a break. In spite of best intentions there are times that we get out of balance. One of the tools that we use to make sure that we hit the reset button is to schedule technology-free family days. For us, that usually happens on a Saturday that we are able to take some time and turn off all technology and spend time engaging in some activities that we all enjoy.
As we mentioned before, we've also taken vacations during which we have limited our use of technology. We'll use our phones turned to “airplane” mode so that we can take pictures. We've also brought older equipment so that the kids can take their own pictures and create their own documentaries. Their pictures are amazing and tell the story of an imperfect family, but one that worked to find as many opportunities to personally engage with those most important to them. We have found that by unplugging, we enjoy each other in the moment even more. We demonstrate importance through sacrifice. As much as we are trying to figure this out as parents, our children are going to continue watching our example and begin making their own decisions regarding how much technology impacts their lives.
Even though we would like to think that technology is a new challenge that we as parents in the 21st century have to deal with, it really isn't. I remember growing up knowing that, if the phone rang at dinner time, it was not going to get answered. We have the examples of generations that have gone before us, and somehow they made the adjustments that they needed to continue intentionally spending time with the people that were in the room with them. This is the example that we can follow and pass on to our children. Giving undivided attention to the people that are closest to us will provide us with the foundation to face other challenges that come our way. Mindfulness in the present moment helps create an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness which will be transferred to our children, and their children, for generations to come, no matter how technology continues to advance.
If the past twenty years are any kind of indication of how much technology is going to continue impacting our lives in the next twenty years, we know that there are a lot more decisions that we are going to have to make. Our kids do not have their own phones yet and we have decided to delay that as long as possible. This is not popular in our home, but there is just so much that they have yet to learn about appropriately using technology to connect with others without allowing these tools to control them. The decisions that we make as parents now will help to set them up for success when they finally do own their own devices. So we smile when they ask to take our picture with their old camera, hoping and praying that one day their habits allow them to focus their time and attention on the people that matter most in the moment. Choosing mindfulness. Being present. With a heart of gratitude and thankfulness.
We are creating our legacy every day. With our choices. With our actions. Our legacy depends upon our emotional success. Emotional health and well-being is something very dear to both my husband and I. We are on a journey, learning ourselves and committed to becoming more emotionally healthy beings. We challenge each other daily, with open hearts (most often!), to encourage change in the other person. Each of us carries with us patterns from our own family of origin, and each of us has ways of handling emotions. Some patterns are healthy, others are not. Hold onto the good, and learn to change the unhealthy patterns. To affect change, it is important to take a look at your own emotional state, why you react certain ways, what are your triggers, and think about how you want to respond in an effective way. This helps us as we respond to our son, and help him work through emotions. We are committed to being his emotion-coach and teaching him the importance of empathy. We have seen empathy develop at a young age in him, already at 18 months he was caring for his babies, and sharing what he has with Mamma and Pappa. We have also found that our values determine our reactions to emotions. We see that teaching about responsibility, telling the truth, and offering/receiving forgiveness are all important aspects of emotional success. Children also need time, space and opportunity to think, process, and live, which is why we like the concepts of boredom and mindfulness. Children live what they learn, and learn what they live. As we change how we live, and learn to live in the way we truly want to, we will affect change for our children and their children to come.
In the beginning, we suggested you take a moment to reflect after reading each chapter. We hope you took the time to do that! If not, you can still reflect now, after reading through the book. What concept was new to you? What chapter in particular stood out to you? What would you like to learn more about? How do you apply this into your parenting on a daily basis? We would love to hear from you! To learn your story. How did this book affect you? What are your greatest takeaways?!