The beauty of being a grandparent is that we have gained wisdom regarding child rearing that we no longer really have to use. Our years of experience and our distance from the task of raising youngsters provide us with a more realistic lens than we might have had when we were in the trenches. As the saying goes, grandparents have been there done that, bought the t-shirt. We’ve had as many mistakes as successes, regrets as proud moments. Still, times change just enough from one generation to another that I would never suggest that older parents might be best. In fact, those of us over sixty may be far too removed from modern realities to adequately handle the ups and downs of parenting. Nonetheless, I see so much happening with our young people today that has me worried. For better or worse here are a few suggestions that I would like to offer to moms or dads who are staying up nights worrying about the kids.
First, and perhaps most importantly, I have found children to be oxymorons in that they are very fragile and very strong at one and the same time. How they react to difficult situations is more often than not correlated with how the adults in the world choose to react.
Let’s say a youngster is caught cheating on a test, and the infraction is reported to the parents by the teacher. It’s fine to gather the facts of the case, but it would be terribly wrong of the mom or dad to turn their anger and disappointment on the teacher. The key is to stay calm, but firm in letting the child know that cheating is wrong and that the proper thing to do is to accept the punishment and learn from the situation. It is also critical to find out why the youngster felt the need to cheat.
Often the reasons our children engage in bad behavior derives from pressures and fears that need to be addressed. It is fine to be forgiving, but the child must understand the displeasure with his/her lack of integrity. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, and the youngster must realize that it group think is never an excuse for doing wrong.
While your child may appear to fall apart if you provide a consequence for an infraction, always remember that he/she will indeed become a far better person if you stand firm on your insistence that he/she follows a set of guidelines that you insist upon. All children will be watching parents to see how they behave and react, so always be aware that you must be a positive role model.
Having frank conversations with your children, especially when they are teens, is critical. They need to know that you are willing to discuss any of their concerns without judgement. Your feedback must be open, honest and provide them with a sense of optimism. If they lose a big game or run for a class office and are defeated they need to understand that the fact that they tried to accomplish something is far more important than the eventual outcome. It has been shown time and again that grit is the greatest indicator of future success than any other trait. The child who works hard and risks losing is learning that life is often tough, but half of the battle is the willingness to show up and be present. There is as much merit in the effort as in the prize, and the best form of competition is with oneself.
Even the most well adjusted and confident child often feels misunderstood and unloved, particularly by his/her peers. A good parent teaches young ones how to focus on being kind and the importance of knowing how to deal with the slights that are an inevitable part of living. Learning how to eschew our very human ego centric tendencies builds self worth and makes jealousies far more unlikely. The child with a strong sense of well being is better able to deal with bullying and temptations to participate in dangerous behaviors. Parents can build a sense of trust in their children by walking the walk that they want their little ones to travel. It demands a great deal of love and a firm adherence to high standards with a touch of understanding when mistakes and missteps occur.
I see so many temptations for today’s children. The use of dangerous drugs is at an all time high. Bullying is commonplace. We see far too many instances of drinking and speeding and casual sexual activity. Depression is epidemic. It seems increasingly difficult to watch over our young and guide them past the landmines that they might encounter. The parent who is vigilant, open, honest, and willing to discipline with love and consequences that teach valuable lessons will make it past all of the pitfalls that happen.
It is rare for any child to be entirely perfect. Cool heads must prevail when the disappointments occur. At the same time parents should be aware of their own needs and find ways of taking a break from the sometimes all consuming job of raising their children. A night out now and again is a good thing, and also teaches the kids how to be responsible when the parents are not around. As a very wise friend once told me, a healthy and happy parent is better able to deal with the big stuff when it arises.
Being a parent a tough gig, but remember that people have somehow accomplished it successfully for generations. Take a deep breath and just be real. You’ve got this!