Even though I spend a lot of time fussing or giving my children reminders to do their homework or complete their chores, I try to relate to them as much as possible.
I’m not always going to be popular as a parent. Obviously, that is not the priority. However, as my children grow and become members of society, it is easier to influence them when they feel like I can relate to them.
We tend to stress ourselves a lot when things are going wrong with our children. Since we had them, we have had to make many decisions, and we can feel responsible when things don’t go as planned.
Parenting is difficult—everything we do counts; some things more than others. More importantly, some things are just outside of our control.
So when a problem arises in middle school or with friends and they are not sure what to do, I want my kids to come to me. If they witness or experience something exciting or shocking, they should want to tell me all about it when they get home.
It’s not about being “friends” with my kids. I am the parent, and they must understand the distinction. Respect is something I do demand; I am stern when needed. However, I simultaneously strive to keep the lines of communication as open as possible.
I want to know my kids’ interests and the decisions that they have to make when they leave home. I want to stay in the know. With this goal in mind, these objectives help me stay close with my kids at a delicate time in their lives.
1. Empathize with them by putting myself in their shoes.
Be prepared to learn from them. For each situation, I incorporate these questions into my approach to parenting: What worked when I was a kid? What didn’t? What would have motivated me? What did I wish for myself? How are my kids different from me? How are they the same?
2. Help my kids come to their own conclusions.
I present a persuasive argument and am patient (or at least try to be) and confident that they will come around. Understanding takes time. For example, when I want my kids to join activities, I try to convince them that it is in their best interests (which it is) to find fun ways of learning. There are many opportunities available to learn things in a fun way. I tell my kids that as they grow, they will be expected to learn lots of things. Therefore, it is much better to get familiar hands-on experience now, before they’re expected to understand everything very quickly later.
3. Make sure I am listening.
Life can be very busy, and I am guilty of multitasking and partially listening to what my kids are saying or not saying. It sounds pretty obvious, but it’s something I have to remind myself constantly.
4. Give them more choices.
I try not to tell my kids “no” all the time. If possible (and sometimes this takes a bit of creativity), I try to present them with more choices. For example, if one of my kids asks to go with their friends after school, instead of just saying “no,” I may tell them better times for a get-together and then remind them why hanging out after school is tough some school days.
5. Be honest about who I am.
I tell them what my aspirations are. I let them “see” my hard work and what challenges I face in my life. I tell them what some of my weaknesses are (especially if it is one that I share with them) and how I work to overcome those weaknesses. If I make a mistake, I apologize. I hope that they will reciprocate this honestly. I am setting the example.
6. Equip them for success in their endeavors.
I encourage my kids to try many things, but sometimes they tell me what they would like to do. I try to be open, supportive and encouraging while allowing them to learn for themselves. My goal as a parent is to get them ready for their independence and remind them that a great work ethic is key. I have to remind myself to back off when I would like to step in and be available when needed.
7. Encourage them to have a social life (If their homework is done and they have been following the house rules, of course).
Kids need to socialize. I aim to get my kids in different circles to see and learn how to interact with different types of kids with different interests. Letting them have a social life also lets them know I trust them. When I am uncomfortable with my kids “hanging out” without me, I find supervised opportunities for them to hang out. I let them have and go to birthday parties. I let them have a movie night and invite their friends over. I take them to the park and let them meet new kids. I have them join book clubs. I let them meet up with friends to collaborate on a school project at the library. Gradually, I am letting them socialize with or meet their friends with little to no supervision to feel trusted and maintain my trust.
8. Make more time for the fun things that they want to do.
Whether I am going on a family outing or chauffeuring a few of their friends around, I incorporate their fun into my fun. For example, if we are going apple picking on Saturday or to a museum as a family, I may ask what they would be interested in doing afterward.
9. Show them I can relate to all kinds of people.
When my son was little, I was given The Help Me Be Good series as a gift. He loved the books. This series did a great job at addressing acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. It taught me how to have discussions about behavior in a productive way that suggests why it might be happening and how to turn it around. Judging classmates or friends abruptly and being closed-minded might end their willingness to share with me.
10. I warn them to be cautious of their surroundings and never be afraid to talk to me.
I am straightforward with my kids about their safety. The advice that you give your kids will have to come from within, and you have to determine what is appropriate or not. You may want to ask the advice of a school social worker, read a book on the subject, or ask a friend for advice if you are not certain how to introduce some topics. There are real dangers, and as a parent, I would be doing them a disservice if I did not share my concerns with my kids. They should be aware of the dangers that they are facing so that they can be cautious.