As we hit full swing in the post-holiday season, young children and adolescents are finishing their first term of school. Some are full of hope, while others struggle with fear and anxiety. Simultaneously, we, as parents, are working through our own anxiety and fear about the social, emotional, educational, and physical success of our children. As our children continue to grow and develop they need us to model how to handle difficulty, stress, and life’s challenges. Through my practice as a therapist, I have found that when parents deliberately teach their children appropriate skills to handle difficulty and stress, children adjust better to life’s challenges. I emphasize the word deliberate. This has to be something you choose to spend time doing because it doesn’t just happen on its own.
Here are 4 strategies to help you model for and teach your children how to handle difficulty, stress and develop well in life:
I find that many families struggle to consistently follow through with healthy emotional development in life. It is crucial that children learn how to handle emotions from their parents. This does not mean, for example, that if we get upset we are always going to handle it perfectly. Children learn how to handle emotions by observing our actions just as much, if not more, than by our words. If we make a mistake, it is important to talk with your child about this. Apologize. Tell them what you did wrong. Tell them what you could have done differently.
School for children can also be an emotionally charged experience. It often creates difficulties our children don’t know how to handle. I encourage parents to help their children understand their emotions and learn to let them go. Help your children label what they are feeling so that they are not confused. Then help them let it go. Sometimes you can have them write down their emotion on a piece of paper and tell them to let it go by tearing it up and throwing it away. We need to let our children know its ok to feel difficult emotions.
Share Your Love with Your Children
Talk openly about your love for your children and make sure they know you mean it. Verbally telling them that you love will have long-lasting effects that you may not see right away. Find fun activities that you can do together. Let some of these activities be directed by your child. Follow their lead in what to do and how to play. You will learn a lot about your child by doing this. This is an important way to develop common interests and to help you spend time with each other.
Talk about your Personal Goals
Both parents and children have goals in life that they are working towards. A goal that I have with my own children is to help them understand the things I do on a day-to-day basis (i.e., business development, understanding stocks, football scores, fantasy football). Reach outside yourself and share a bit of you with your children. This is a good segue into helping your child develop their own personal goals.
Many people struggle to accept themselves for who they are. I challenge you to explore and understand yourself and to accept the good, bad, and ugly parts you find. We often compare ourselves to others and feel like we don’t measure up. Keep in mind that everyone is different. Discover new things about yourself and finding ways to be less judgmental and critical of our weaknesses. There is so much guilt and shame in the world, let’s find ways to decrease this in ourselves. By doing so, we model to our children how to accept themselves as well.
Phil Scoville is a marriage and family therapist and a co-owner and the clinical director at the Center for Couples and Families, a counseling center in Utah Valley.