4 Things Your Kids Need From You, and How to Give it to them Tonight
One of the most frequent worries I see as a therapist from parents is concern about being a good parent. In general, I find that most people, regardless of how effective their methods are, just want their kids to grow up and be successful, loving, and loved adults (however they may define that).
Parents want their kids to know that they are loved and supported, no matter what, as they grow. Much like anything else, the best intentions are often difficult to achieve. With after-school activities, family commitments, homework, and everything in between, the chaos of life often gets in the way and prevents parents from being present with their children.
If you feel overwhelmed, overworked, under appreciated, and self-critical, you are most certainly NOT alone. This is a common experience for parents, and usually means that your heart is in the right place and that you’re trying your best.
Given that life is chaotic, stressful, and far too hectic to plan anything intricate, it’s important to highlight what is TRULY needed by our kids, and talk about some ways, no matter how small, that you can offer that to them on a daily basis. Start with these four things your kids need from you right now.
Kids need structure. Any parent of a teenager (or threenager) will tell you that kids are born to test limits. They push, pull, whine, cry, beg, plead, sneak, and anything in between. This type of behavior is incredibly frustrating and one of the most difficult to navigate as a parent.
Beyond remaining consistent on the larger limits (such as curfew or homework completion), the use of structure on smaller day to day tasks creates a sense of peace and safety within the home. It teaches your children that no matter how chaotic life becomes, they are safe with you. In order to offer this to your children in a way that is not punitive, you can do several things.
For the younger kids, consider a structured bedtime routine, such as taking a bath, reading a story, singing a song, and going to bed. For kids of all ages, playing a game with all members of the family is a GREAT way to introduce structure, as the rules of the game (and your encouragement of their use) is an inherent way to provide this need. For the older kids, consider having a specific time of day for a specific activity. For example, perhaps you both like the same show, and you structure time to sit down and watch it together, and then discuss it. Perhaps you take some time after school before homework is done to discuss their favorite thing about the day.
Regardless of how you choose to offer it, structure is not just about rules, it’s about routines. These things become treasured rituals of your family.
Nurturance takes many forms, but essentially, at its core, nurturing your child shows them that you care about them as a person. The reasons behind this need seem obvious, but many overwhelmed parents often prioritize task completion (such as getting to soccer on time, or finishing homework for tomorrow) over this need.
There are many ways of providing this to your children that don’t take much time but have a very large impact. For example, if you notice your teenager is exhausted, instead of criticizing them for staying up until 2:00 AM on their phone texting, perhaps step back, and comment that they seem tired and upset. Ask them if there is something going on, or if there is anything that’s keeping them from sleeping. To take it further, ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them with what’s bothering them. For the younger ones, consider playing a game, such as having your toddler hide stickers on themselves that you must then find, or add bubbles to the bath tonight.
The tough part of nurturance is remembering to prioritize this above life’s commitments, but is very achievable in little doses.
3. Emotional Connection
Being emotionally available to your children is incredibly important. When your children know that they are not only allowed, but encouraged, to share their emotional experiences with you, they will be more likely to share the more difficult feelings with you as they arise.
This need is also one that tends to be somewhat easier to fulfill, and it can be done in several ways. One is through modeling. For example, when your child asks you about your day, don’t respond with a simple “good.” If you had a rough day, tell your children (in an age appropriate way) what happened and how it made you feel, and then remind them how it makes you feel now to share it with them. Another way is through sharing emotional moments that you share. For example, one of the most emotionally connective experiences is through the day of your child’s birth or adoption. Share that story with your child, and how you felt on that day.
Share any emotionally connective experiences with your children, as this facilitates the bond you share, and can be done at any age.
One of the most important tasks of parenthood is to prepare our children for adulthood. To this aim, we must always constantly raise the bar slightly higher than our children are able to reach, and then teach them how to reach it.
This one can be tough because it’s often easier to just complete a task yourself (just ask any parent attempting to teach their toddler to brush their teeth or get dressed). However, this is also a need that can be provided every day through small tasks, and can be modified as a means to increase your bond. For example, have your toddler teach you to do something that they learned to do in day care today (even if it’s writing the letter Q). Have your teenager teach you how to use Instagram (if that’s even still a thing…). This gives your child the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery to you rather than constantly be working up to improve their skills in areas you are teaching them.
This process can strengthen your relationship, and provides opportunities to let your kids shine.
It’s Worth it!
Being a parent is one of the most difficult and thankless jobs that exists. The hours are terrible, the boss(es) are demanding, but I will say that the pay can be priceless if you put the effort into these four things your kids need from you. Structure, nurturance, emotional connection, and challenge are four very basic needs within a parent-child relationship. When consistently provided, these four things pave the way for a positive bond between you and your children that they will carry with them their entire lives.