I believe that creating healthy foundations for our children is the key to supporting them to eventually go on and confidently find their own way in life, while being grounded in making healthy, empowering choices for themselves. For example, in our home we have a red metal box – we call it ‘Red Derek’. I think Red Derek – named by my 13 year old son – is symbolic of how we as parents can create a sacred space at home for our kids, to help set the foundations they need in order to live their best life (stay with me here).
Red Derek reminds me a little of the red box that the late Queen Elizabeth received her official documents in. It looks kind of like hers from a distance, but that is where the similarities end! Our red box stores and charges electronic devices, like mobile phones and iPads. It has helped hugely to set healthy boundaries for everyone in our home, so we have a lot of breaks and complete separation from devices and can enjoy the diversity that life has to offer. It helps us to be able to connect to one another without devices being a distraction. The outside world, including the on-line world offers so much, yet they of course can also be overwhelming. Home is ideally a sanctuary, that protects from and shuts out the overwhelm.
Since the moment I realised I was pregnant with my son, I have deeply contemplated this question – how can I create an environment for my child so that he can move through life knowing that he is loved, he is loveable, he will always be accepted by his family, and he has a unique, special space to fill in the world? The adventures of navigating being a parent are so personal and it’s your own inner guidance that can best put you on the right path for you. To inspire you with ideas to contemplate for your parenting adventures, today I’m sharing with you three keys that I have learned are very important for creating strong foundations for a family and a growing child or teen.
Make Connection Top Priority
Connection to your child helps to foster a deeply held belief in them that they belong in their family, and in the sanctuary of their own home. A family home that values connection is naturally less stressful and less overwhelming. Quality, real connection to parents has been shown in many different studies to be the best way to help safeguard children from self-destructive behaviour. Connection to parents also helps form the much-needed support network that they will need to overcome life’s big challenges.
To foster connection we need to regularly recognise and affirm our child’s value, which in turn will help them to build a genuine foundation of self-worth. Feeling seen, heard and valued helps them to reach for their highest potential and foster and value their own natural strengths. When adolescents feel more secure within themselves and their world they are less inclined to take risks in order to impress their peers.
A connected child knows that their parent will meet them where they are at, and that their parent will invest in loving and nurturing them even in the face of rejection. It may be one of the greatest gifts we can give our child – a solid belief that they can come and talk to us about anything, knowing that we will really listen and support them no matter what. And perhaps then the most important foundation to put in place for their teenage years is for our kids to have endless evidence over many years that we are open, available, and will have their back no matter what situation they find themselves in.
Set the Intention of Being Calm and Respectful
I want and expect my son to address me with calm communication that is respectful, and so I strive to do this with him. Whilst it may just be one of the most challenging things to do at times with our children, making a pact with ourselves to prioritise speaking to them in a calm tone of voice, using relaxed or neutral facial expressions and calm body language is a clear and powerful way of setting the stage for what is expected and what can be the general norm of a home environment.
Calm creates an opening for connection and minimises unnecessary drama that is stressful for everyone. Further to this, as children move into adolescence they will generally become increasingly and even painfully self-conscious and self-focused. They can tend to read into any parental facial expression that isn’t calm or neutral, as angry or condemning or disliking of them.
A teenager can also be inclined to think that the adults in their life just don’t care about their needs or opinions or they just don’t ‘get’ them, and aiming for calm, focused interactions helps to send a message that you are listening, you do care, you are available, you want to know their take on things, you respect their opinion, and you are a safe sounding board.
Be Mindful of their Healthy Need for Positive Personal Power
We all inherently need a strong sense of positive personal power in our life. It’s a core need for humans, and without it we cannot be content or achieve our greater potential. Children exist in a world where their access to this personal power is regularly thwarted by the many authority figures in their life. They will be easier to be around and more cooperative the more that we can honour their need for this sense of power (while simultaneously setting healthy boundaries that they are developmentally incapable of setting for themselves).
For example, allowing kids to have whatever emotional reaction they naturally are experiencing allows them autonomy – over their body and bodily reactions. They can be angry, moan, throw their arms around, roll their eyes, and they will unless we as parents put draconian, strict controls on these natural expressions of how they feel. We can expect and calmly request within this that they remain respectful. If they choose to not remain respectful, we can tell them that we really want to hear what they have to say, but only when they can maintain respectful behaviour. Then we can ask them to come back to us when they feel ready to do that (or if necessary we can move ourselves somewhere else for the time being).
Allowing our children to feel and express what they feel has very significant benefits for their ongoing wellbeing and healthy development. Pent up, unexpressed, buried emotions fester and cause no end of unhealthy coping habits and ignoring of problems. Allowing them to express their feelings, concerns and thoughts can greatly diminish their susceptibility to anxiety, depression and self-destructive behaviours. Beware of shutting down, dismissing, belittling, trying to fix, or ignoring their feelings or opinions. Giving them a voice is also imperative to them being able to keep alive their ‘inner spark’.
As I do my best to navigate motherhood, and I try to adapt to the changes of where and when to give more freedoms and to step back, I’m fascinated as I watch my son grow. These years ahead are precious, and I’ll continue to learn how I can best provide the sacred space that my son is needing to help him grow into a confident young man. I hope you too find your way while you experience the great privilege and challenges of preparing your child for the many adventures that lay ahead.
Nicki is a Mentor and Holistic Counsellor. She has a Masters in Suicide Prevention and has trained in many modalities so that she can empower families and people from all walks of life. Nicki provides her Flourishing Teen Mentoring Program, Parent and Teen Mentoring, Resilience Coaching, Holistic Counselling, Trauma Healing, and Kinesiology Sessions all on-line. See www.theinspirationcouch.com for bookings or more details