National Make a Difference to Children Month
It’s much easier to prepare a child for adulthood than it is to repair an adult from their childhood. We are helping caregivers learn skills to prepare their children for adulthood.
National Make a Difference to Children Month
Kim Ratz originated Make a Difference to Children Month in 2006 out of his huge compassion for children living in underprivileged and/or abusive circumstances. SoulSpring Counseling shares Kim’s heart that children deserve to live a life characterized by physical safety, encouragement, nurture, and emotionally stable role models. Children need to be taught healthy ways to live, communicate, and believe in themselves. Developmentally they can’t teach themselves, although many adults would say they feel like they “raised themselves”. They may have had a roof and food, but they say they lacked guidance and felt totally unprepared to be an adult.
In particular, children need their role models during times of stress so they can learn how to cope with stress in healthy ways. During stressful events, if children are left to interpret the events around them with their underdeveloped minds, they are likely to draw false conclusions and then act like they are true. And because of their stage of development, where in their minds the world still revolves around them, children are likely to believe events that have nothing to do with them are somehow their fault. Without an adult explanation, children tend to blame themselves when a parent leaves the family, when there is divorce, a fight, abuse, addiction, disrespect or a mistake. “It’s my fault. Because I didn’t do enough or did too much, that’s why Mommy cries so much. That’s why Daddy is always so angry. I need to do better so Mommy and Daddy are ok.”
Guardians as Role Models
And thus are the roots of so many of the reasons that adults come in for counseling. They are operating in the world with the false beliefs, unresolved emotional pain, and survival skills they learned in childhood to help them get through. Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families puts it this way:
“Children raised in troubled families need protection and safety like all children, but they are raised by people who are absent, neglectful, or the cause of stress and pain itself. At times of trauma where does the child run toward? Home. But where do you run when the trauma is within the home The natural responses to trauma are flight, fight, or freeze. For most kids they need to freeze. They are not able to run, or fight, so in essence they run within.”
Life is hard and parenting is hard. Even the most well-adjusted of parents make mistakes. But there are common characteristics of parents that correlate with children growing up feeling secure, stable, and making more positive choices. Conversely, there are parental behaviors that tend to result in children feeling insecure, unstable, and making poor choices to cope with painful feelings. Please read on to explore some categories of each.
Obviously, children have basic survival needs like we all do: food, appropriate shelter and clothing, physical safety, clean water, and nurturing touch. Sadly, many children grow up without getting even basic needs met. Maybe some of you reading this can relate from your own childhoods? But we’re not focusing on children whose basic needs are not met. We’re looking at less quantifiable needs that are difficult to define but are still immeasurably important to a child’s social and emotional development.
*For simplicity’s sake, we define “parents” to mean the caregiver(s) responsible for the care of children. We recognize there are many constellations of what people define as “family” or “parents”. Our use of “parents” is mostly for pragmatic reasons, and does not imply discounting other family constellation patterns.
Parental Behavior Categories
LEADERSHIP. Children need to know that their parents are in charge. This includes setting limits, being consistent, letting your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”. Leadership does not imply harshness or rigidity. Leadership refers to the parent’s identity of knowing she is in charge and that she has the final say. Children also need to know that their parents are in agreement regarding decision-making in the house. Children who learn that they can play one parent against another learn to be manipulative to get what they want. Parents who consistently don’t agree often struggle with marital problems down the road. Parents who recognize and exercise their leadership provide a sense of safety and security. From a place of safety, children are free to explore the world around them.
ROUTINE. At all stages of development, children thrive best in environments that provide a consistent routine. A consistent routine instills healthy habits that children take with them into adulthood. Sleep, hygiene, feeding, household chores….the more that children learn to do on their own, the better prepared they will be for adulthood.
PROTECTION. Children need to know that they are safe. Children need to know their parents are safe. In addition to physical safety, children need to know that when they feel threatened or frightened by another person, that they can tell their parents -- knowing that their parents will protect them. The greatest risk for a child to get sexually abused is to have a step-father figure in the home. A child needs to know that when they bring a concern to their parents, that their parents are going to listen thoroughly and take the matter seriously, even if the issue involves someone else that she may love such as her brother, boyfriend, or another sibling.
Even if parents don’t know what to do, the child needs to know that their concerns are important enough to investigate and follow through. Many children who were victimized early in life and did not have parental support to help them get through the challenge continue to operate from a victim’s perspective as adults. Children who have their parents’ protection during a difficult situation often grow up feeling less of an impact in comparison to those children who don’t have support.
NURTURE. Nurture takes all kinds of forms. Children need appropriate physical touch to thrive. Children need to be held, caressed, hugged, and even tickled and tossed around in the pool. They need softly spoken words of love and encouragement. They need their wounds bandaged tenderly. They need to dance with their parents, toss the ball around, wrestle. They need to hear their parents tell them they are loved. Children who don’t hear very often that they are loved often grow up to feel…..well, they often feel unlovable. Children need for their parents to initiate and nurture their relationships.
GUIDANCE. At every stage of development, children need guidance. How to ask for help. How to deal with a bully. How to make friends. How to apologize. How to deal with rejection. How to cope with embarrassment. How to navigate through puberty. How to shop for clothes. How to search for a job. How to set boundaries. How to explore the world to find what it has to offer. Children who receive intentional guidance from their parents enter into adulthood with more confidence in their abilities to succeed and interact effectively with others.
ROLE MODELING. In order to guide and teach, parents do need to role model. When has “Do as I say and not as I do” ever worked? Children need parents who consistently seek to better themselves, their character, their skills, their own mental health. As children see, children do. Parents who don’t role model the expectations they have for their children often get called “hypocrites” later. And that’s no fun.
FREEDOM. Children need freedom to explore, to run around, play, try new things, be silly, make funny faces, create. They need freedom to learn how to make decisions and how to live with the consequences of their decisions, wanted or unwanted. Children need the freedom to make mistakes, underperform, or otherwise “fail”. In other words, children need to know that although we wish we didn’t make mistakes, that mistakes are normal and are a chance to learn. Children need to know that just because they “fail” attempting to complete a task that they are not a failure.
HEALTHY COMMUNICATION. Children need to know that everyone in the family has equal worth, equal voice. Each family member has permission to share their dreams, goals, feelings, concerns, and questions without getting shamed or put down. Children learn that they matter because their parents listen to them and ask them questions. Parents remember what is important to their children. Children feel safe because their families don’t gossip about them or each other. Children need to see that their families know how to be assertive, how to ask for what they want and need, as well as feel comfortable saying “no” to a request. Children need to see families resolve conflict in a way that everyone’s voice is heard and respected.
AUTHENTICITY. Children need to see that their parents say what they mean, mean what they say, and don’t say it mean. Children thrive when they see their parents feeling, thinking, and acting as their true selves, and so children learn that their feelings and thoughts are ok to share as well. When children feel scared, lonely, sad, hurt, or mad, they feel secure when they can share their feelings with their parents, and their parents listen with compassion. Many children who do not feel safe sharing their feelings with their parents often grow up with either a mental health, addiction, or relationship problem. Children need help tolerating their emotional pain so they don’t feel tempted to engage in unhealthy “feel good” or addictive behaviors later on.
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. Children need to know that they are human, and humans make mistakes, and so it’s ok to make mistakes. Parents can role model to their children that they too make mistakes and the goal is how to learn from the mistake, and not to seek perfection. Children need to know that they are loved unconditionally, even if they mess up “really really bad”. Their parents follow through on consequences but also make sure to tell their child they love them and to show compassion while disciplining. Parents can laugh at their own mistakes and show their children that they can laugh at theirs too. When parents role model, “I’m sorry”, children are much more likely to feel respected and closer to their parents. Children learn to say that they’re sorry, and even mean it.
These are just a sample of the ways that parents can be intentional to love, guide, nurture, and discipline their children to give them the best chance to grow up to be well-adjusted adults. Just like children need to know that they don’t have to be perfect, parents you too need to know that you don’t have to be perfect. Some circles talk about making “progress, not perfection” and “growing along spiritual lines”.
Let Us Help You Prepare
We at SoulSpring Counseling are in the business of helping parents learn more skills to prepare their children for adulthood. We’re in the business of helping couples learn how to merge and support each other as parents and in their own relationships. We’re in the business of helping children, teens, and young adults learn how to cope with life and navigate their own way. And, #TeamSoulSpring is also in the biz to help adults repair from their childhoods. Daily Affirmations of Adult Children of Alcoholics puts it like this:
"I have survived the forces that would have weakened or even annihilated me, and my Soul has sprung free and open to the beauty of Life."
Free your Soul and Spring forth your Life!
Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Wynne Stallings for her contributions to the content of this article.