New Year's Resolution: 10 Ways to Empower Your Kids to Make a Difference in Their LivesMeredith Carroll
Right around the time of my 30th birthday, I wallowed miserably about the stale trajectory of my life. It seemed like everyone around me was growing, moving and getting closer to where they wanted to be personally and professionally while I was stuck in my own version of a Groundhog Day-like rut. Then I watched an episode of Oprah where an audience member talked about how she once found herself sitting around and waiting for someone or something to come along and make changes for her — and when she realized she had to be her own change, she was able to love forward and live the life she wanted.
That was the light bulb moment for me. Shortly thereafter, I moved: geographically, professionally and personally. I just did it — leaving behind tons of self-pity and sorry excuses.
I just came across a blog called Tiny Buddha, which offers “simple wisdom for complex lives.” Just in time for the new year, a post on the site asked readers to chime in on ways to make a difference in the world every day.
My new year’s resolutions for 2014 are to guide my kids to make a difference in their lives every day by finding their own happiness — and sadness, silliness, anger — and empowering them to to be their own change when they feel it’s necessary. They’re young, but I don’t want them waiting until their fourth decade in life to learn how to do it. Kids often get frustrated when they realize they have little control over their lives, but by surrendering their power to them in appropriate amounts, you’ll be imparting to them one of the best gifts they can ever receive — at just the right time.
Here are 10 things my family will be working on this year:
Parenting New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 1 of 11
Don't assume you need to wait until your kids are older to start them on a path of emotional empowerment.
Teach Them to Find Joy in Other’s Happiness 2 of 11
So often it seems that when it's one child's birthday, their sibling gets a gift, too. After all, no one wants a kid feeling left out or unloved. But instead of trying to create equality at all times, try to help them find the bliss in other people's celebrations, accomplishments and happy moments. If your child grows up having only learned empathy, at a minimum you have set them up for a life of some emotional contentment.
Allow Them to Feel Angry 3 of 11
It's the instinct of many parents to soothe their children out of any emotion that's not happiness. We kiss their owies, commiserate their losses and cheer up their bad moods. But letting them experience their own range of feelings and coming to peace with what's happening in their heads and hearts perhaps gives them a moment to recognize and address what's happened, how it happened and how they can make it un-happen themselves, if they so choose. No one wants to be told all the time how they're supposed to think. Sometimes they just need to be, and it's our job as parents to just let them, whether or not it's how we'd like it to unfold on their behalf.
Let Them Solve Their Own Problems 4 of 11
Kids get themselves into lots of messes (some literal, some figurative). Initially they need to learn from their parents how to clean it all up — but sometimes the best way for them to figure it out is on their own. It might take a few frustrating/teary/angry/desperate tries before they get it right, but when they do, they will likely feel proud for having solved/navigated/unstuck/tidied what they previously thought could exclusively/magically/perfectly be done by you.
Give Them Space to Create 5 of 11
Family projects, outings and time spent as a unit are critical when it comes to letting children know that you are invested in growing together. But take a step back now and again and let them entertain themselves. You might just be surprised at how well they do when given the opportunity to come up with ways to entertain themselves. Even better — they will be given the chance to see how beautifully they can fill in the white space of their own day and delight in the process.
Play, Slide, Swing 6 of 11
It's what kids do: They play. However, it's become easier to let them do it with a screen instead of the sky. As we get more absorbed in the virtual world with 24/7 access to social media and work distractions at the push of a device that fits neatly in our pocket, we're also letting our kids get more screen time than face-to-face time. But, of course, you can bring your smartphone to the park where at least they are screen-free. Exercise, imaginative activity and good old-fashioned swinging are joys that simply cannot be duplicated via an app.
Model the Benefits of Positive Energy 7 of 11
It's so easy to tell kids what they should do and how they should do it. It's a whole other thing to model the behavior for them. Whether it's dressing in complementary Halloween costumes, showing them how you enjoy sledding, trying new foods alongside them or apologizing when you make a mistake — exemplifying positive and productive traits will encourage them to follow suit.
Look Into Their Eyes 8 of 11
Whether it's when you're thanking someone, greeting someone or listening to someone, as an adult, you know it's most polite to look into their eyes. Your kids need to know this, too, and the best way to teach it to them is by doing it when you're thanking, greeting or listening to them. They will feel more valued, heard and understood if you take the time to get down to their level and look into their eyes, thereby illustrating for them how they should similarly engage others as they move into more sophisticated forms of communication.
Coach Them in Nonverbal Communication 9 of 11
When kids are very little, you have to get involved in everything they do. They can't work out problems with their siblings or friends if they can't speak or otherwise physically defend themselves. But as they grow bigger and mature, help them recognize how to pick up on nonverbal cues. Not everyone wants to talk, be touched or play at every moment — no matter how frustrating that can be while it's happening. The sooner they become aware of detecting noncognitive signals in others, the better equipped they'll be to respond accordingly and move on.
Have them Dance to their Own Beat 10 of 11
If kids have perfected anything from a young age, it's the art of being silly. As they get older, though, parents have a tendency to encourage their children's less-silly behavior. In 2014, sit back, watch, laugh and applaud their goofiness. If there's a common thread that runs through their giddiness, you both might discover activities, books and music appropriate for their interests. At the very least, by smiling and supporting their crazies, you're letting them know their lighthearted spirit is worthy of celebration at the appropriate moments and that while being serious has a time and place, it isn't necessarily all the time and in all the places.
Grant Them a Peek Behind Your Curtain 11 of 11
Most kids think their parents hung the moon. And for all that you do for your kids — they're right. But, as you know, you're not perfect. It's OK to let your children see you other than confident and in charge. You don't need to be a mom or dad of steel at all moments. You cry. You get scared. You worry. If they see that you'll always protect and take care of them but that sometimes you have bad days (week/months/years), they'll know it's OK for them to fall short of perfection, too — and come out on the other side in one piece as well as at peace.
Photo credits: Meredith Carroll