Why do American families still have June Cleaver on a pedestal? An increasing number of studies show that intensive parenting is bad for mothers and bad for children, yielding a generation of kids who lack the wings to fly. Let's put an end to face time parenting and instead focus on how to be the best parent possible when we are with our children. Regardless of your constraints - financial, time, or logistical - here are 7 gifts to give your children now:
1. The Gift of Empathy
We all want our children to grow up with the ability to have close relationships and empathy is at the cornerstone. With that in mind, let’s not be the parent who addresses their crying child with exasperation and says, “You’re fine!” Instead, think back to the last time you felt sad or angry and shared your feelings. How would you have felt if the person you opened up to said, “Buck up.” Just as you crave and need emotional validation, your child does too. Validating doesn’t say to your child, “You are right.” It says: “I have heard you. I understand your feelings.”
2. The Gift of Unconditional Love
I grew up in a family that said, “I love you” every day. My husband did not but it has since become important to him. Hearing and saying the words are not just an emotion – they are an activity – and integral to creating a safe, warm family culture. As Michele Borba explains, "'I love you’ plants the most important message. Our kids need to develop those critical beliefs that say ‘I'm a worthwhile person’ and our words become their inner dialogue.”
3. The Gift of Listening
We feel we know what is best for our children so we tend to bring the “answer” to the conversation. Yet listening trumps solving. As life coach Martha Beck shared with me, the most important gift to a child is to show them: “I see you” for who you really are. Martha was sick in bed for much of her children’s early years but she explains that she could still see them for who they were, and now as adults, they tell her that was all that really mattered.
4. The Gift of Happiness
Research shows that optimistic people lead healthier and happier lives. If you don’t see the glass half full today, shift your thinking for the sake of your child. Having a negative parent makes it harder for a child to have positive expectancy – to believe that good things will happen to them. So the next time you catch yourself verbalizing your self-doubt or cynicism, turn it around for the sake of your audience.
5. The Gift of Peace
Children sense their parents’ stress. As much as you are worried about finances, your cat’s injury, the angry client and what you will be scraping together for dinner, take a breath and refocus on the big picture for the sake of your innocent child. Exposure to an anxious parent leads to anxiety in children.
6. The Gift of a Strong Body Image
If your child catches you loving your body, she will learn to love hers. A child’s healthy body image comes with work. Never let her hear you criticizing your body or anyone else’s. Shield her from spending time with families that talk about diet and weight loss. Curate your friends so that you surround her with positive body images and healthy talk. Intentionally point out beauty that comes in all shapes, colors and sizes. Give your child a head start on a healthy body image by pointing out what makes her beautiful – her strength, her mind, her heart, and her smile.
7. The Gift of Self-Confidence
When I interviewed successful and famous people for my internet talk show, Obsessed TV, 98% of them had one thing in common – parents who made them believe they could be anything they set out to become; that whatever their dreams, they could achieve them with hard work. Make this your mantra.