Over the years, as I meet for counseling with children and teens, I often wish parents could listen in and be moved by their children's reflections about what they really need and want. It isn't stuff. If we can think about the great honor it is to become a parent, it puts our hearts in the right place. Instead of mold children into shapes, I like to think of parents being curious about who we've been sent, and doing your best to help them develop their skills, abilities and unique interests.
So, what do children want from parents?
1. Not to be compared to others: siblings, classmates, or you at their age. Don't play favorites.
2. Listen, really listen from the heart.
3. Put down our phones and tablets and be present.
4. Give our attention. Our children and teens want it, and if they can't get it in a positive attention, they will often try for negative attention.
5. Offer constancy and predictability. Children like the structure of family dinners, activities, movie nights, and bedtimes. Teens need all these things, too, even though they give pushback. (It's their job to push away from us.)
6. Give encouragement. Notice their strengths. Comment on hard work, effort and improvement.
7. Provide acceptance. Our children need us to accept their innate temperament, their body type, their interests. If your child is an introvert, don't try to 'remake' them into an extrovert.
8.Don't lecture. It makes your kids tune out.
9. Don't embarrass them. If you have to discipline, do it in private. Watch pictures you post about them on social media, that they don't embarrass.
10. Be a good role model. Work on yourself. They learn more from what you do than what you say. By being kind, treating other people well, picking up after yourself, working hard, etc. you teach these things best.
11. Remember it's not YOUR childhood, and they're not YOU. Don't try to get them to ice skate, play lacrosse, be on debate team, major in accounting or become a doctor because you did or you wish you did. We call that projection, and it's not fair.
12. Have some fun together. All of life shouldn't be a drag. Kids often tell me they wish they could engage and play more with parents. Think board games, outings, hiking, biking, baking, crafting, art, and more.
13. Teach them skills. Self-esteem comes from feeling capable. Have them tell you things they want to learn. Keep teaching independent living skills all the way along, as it's age appropriate. Even four year-olds can set the table, and enjoy helping.
14. Help them understand their emotions. Don't tell them not to feel what they are feeling. Let them know that all feelings are okay, it's your internal experience and it's understanding it that's key. Help them to sort out what they are feeling, and how to express it to others.
15. Don't yell. It makes you scary. It doesn't motivate your children to do better. Speak calmly and carry reasonable consequences you can follow through with.
Think of your child as you would a beautiful sunset at the beach, or a rose that's opening. You wouldn't critique them as not quite the right color. You wouldn't judge them as not as good as others, not smart enough or pretty enough. You accept them for the unique gifts they bring to life. We need to value each child or teen for their uniqueness, what they bring to teach us and give to the planet.