Our children are growing up in a different world to the one where we, their parents, spent our formative years. Our children face an overwhelming barrage of media that tell good stories and bad. They are under more pressure to perform on more platforms… And the structure of modern families is often more fluid than we were accustomed to.
Equipping our children to navigate through their world and find balance is one of the best gifts we can give them. There are four key tools that will help them identify their best path, and stick to it, no matter what distractions they encounter: confidence, personal resilience, emotional intelligence, self-worth.
Confidence comes from young people being able to ask themselves questions, identify answers, and to have the strength of character to act on those answers. This gives them the tools they need to identify the tasks, opportunities and obstacles ahead of them. And to plan a strategy to address them all. It also allows them to identify which events are part of their concern, giving them the confidence to choose what they need to do, and not be distracted by what is not important.
Resilience in children comes from them having confidence in themselves and in their personal space with their parents and families. They’re confident that the future will be fine, and that their family institution provides a backstop for all their decisions. While much of this may be tacit in a family, it’s worth learning from bigger institutions – i.e. businesses – and taking the time to create a mission statement for the family, with every family member contributing. This ensures that everyone knows where they fit into the family, and what they need to do to support one another, in turn giving everyone the resilience that they will need to face daily challenges.
Emotional intelligence is being secure in the knowledge of who/whom you are and what you stand for… And it’s not just children and teenagers that need to learn this skill! Parenting requires emotional flexibility and realising that the rules that we grew up with, such as children being seen and not heard, are no longer relevant. Our children have strong opinions that they need the space to vent – and should know how to do it with respect. A society – and a family – with a high level of emotional intelligence knows that everyone has the right to their opinion, but that they also must be cognizant of others’ needs. Simply, they need to learn confidence and assertiveness, without being arrogant.
Self-worth is a state of mind, and not a competency. It includes being comfortable with what you look like and who you are. And it forms the basis of learning responsibility at every level. This could be for something as basic as understanding a timetable and packing bags accordingly. Or it could be responsibility on a deeper level, relating to decisions made, friends chosen, and the nature of social interactions a young person chooses. It also extends to how they manage their time. Or at least finding a sensible balance between academic, sporting and leisure activities.
These four tools are built in the principles of the 7 Habits of Happy Kids by Sean Covey and Stephen R Covey. The habits include: Be proactive – because you’re in charge. Begin with the end in mind – have a plan. Put first things first – work first, then play. Think win-win – everyone needs to benefit. Seek first to understand, then to be understood – listen before you talk. Synergise – because together is better. And Sharpen the saw – because balance feels best!
How do you open conversations about abstract life skills with children who respond best to tangible stimuli?
- Create an environment that is safe and open before you start the discussion
- Maintain constant and open communication
- Correct behaviour after each incident, rather than collecting a range of wrongs before addressing mistakes
- Seek mentors or coaches that can help you
- Use real life examples to illustrate what you’re describing
- Understand that children might not grasp the concept the first time you discuss it.
- Acknowledge and recognise the efforts they make to develop life skills
- Support them in their dreams
- Don’t try to correct your own life mistakes by forcing lessons you should have learned, on them
- Separate the issue and the child. For example, say, “I’m really upset when you behave this way…” Rather than, “You have upset me because…”