Read a dozen different articles on parenting, and you’ll see hundreds of tips on discipline, education, nutrition, exercise and more — all geared toward helping you make sure that your child is successful out in the world. All that advice can be overwhelming.
Parenting will always be challenging, but that doesn’t mean that your approach has to be. This year, make it your goal to simplify. Focus on doing just four things to lay a secure, solid foundation for your child that will prepare them for what’s ahead:
1. Help them put words to their feelings. Anger can mask a huge range of feelings like embarrassment, shame and guilt. Loneliness and boredom can show up as sadness. If your child is young, type “feelings chart” into any search engine, and print out a version with faces. If they’re a tween or teen, try searching for “feelings wheel.” Encourage your entire family to use the words from the chart, and to identify the specific situation that triggered the feelings. Being capable of discussing feelings not only lays an important social-emotional foundation that will help your child more effectively interact with the world, it will bring your family closer.
2. Help them identify their own strengths and interests. Talents and passions aren’t just a path to a fulfilling career — they can be a lifeline when your child is stressed. Show your children how to use what they love as an outlet when things aren’t going well, and help them pursue and cultivate skills at which they already excel. Have your child write down at least three things they’re good at, and at least three things that they love doing. Encourage them to spend a few hours each week doing something from the “things I’m good at” list. When they’re stressed, encourage them to look at the “things I love” list, and do one of those things.
3. Ask them questions. Some of the most important conversations you’ll have with your child will be the result of a question. Get specific, and ask them what the best and worst part of their day was, who they’re hanging out or playing with right now, what they like about their friends — and really listen to their answers.
4. Spend time with them. Days can pass by so quickly. Work; extracurricular activities; leisure time spent watching TV, playing video games or on mobile devices—they can all take time away from developing close connections with your kids. Try scheduling family dinners as often as you can, or dedicate at least one day a month to a “family outing,” and rotate which family member chooses the day’s activity. Spending time together is the best and simplest way to keep your finger on the pulse your child’s growing and changing personality, as well as what they love, dislike and desire.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is the executive director of Youth Eastside Services (YES), a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth and family mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and education and prevention services in east King County. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for thousands of youth and families struggling to overcome depression, substance abuse, trauma and more. Visit www.youtheastsideservices.org or call (425) 747-4937 to learn more.