At our company, we have a program set up for employees to volunteer their time reading to children at an elementary school nearby. One day my co-worker was telling me about his experience reading to the kids and he mentioned how one of the children smelled very strongly of cigarettes.
My heart sank imagining such a young child being around heavily smoking parents. I told my colleague, “If only I could protect that child.” If only I could protect every child from every misfortune, calamity, and mistreatment. If only I could, at least, protect my own children. Being a Type A person and having a high need for control, I am haunted by the fact that I cannot protect my children from all the downs in life.
My colleague, a 30 year old man with no children, said something that shook me out of my thoughts and made me lean back on my chair.
He said, “You cannot protect children from everything. The best thing parents can do is to teach children strategies to cope with problems.
“At some point, children grow up and have to leave your side. And if you haven’t taught them coping strategies, they will have to learn those skills themselves slowly.”
Speechless. I was.
First off, I did not expect to get such a wise parenting lesson from a man with no children.
Secondly, nothing is more truer than the point he made.
No, I cannot protect my children from everything. However, there is something I can do. I can pass on strategies they can be aware of and use in case they do fall into some form of calamity.
Here are a few coping strategies I wish I knew of in my childhood and hope to teach my kids:
1. Nobody is perfect and you are not expected to be perfect either.
I’ve experienced high levels of anxiety trying to be perfect, perfecting an assignment, expecting to be perfect at everything I tried. And of course, I’ve experienced even more anxiety failing over and over again.
I do not wish to see my children having such high expectation of themselves or anybody around them. There needs to be a balance between pushing a little outside of your comfort zone AND being happy with what you are, have, and do.
How I teach it:
- Apologize when my kids or I catch my mistakes
- Tell them mistakes are OK as long as we are doing our best to make good choices
- Avoid punishing or criticizing them when they make mistakes, instead point out how they could have avoided making that mistake
2. Don’t worry about what others think of you.
For so long I tried to fit in. I tried to fit in with friends, with family, with colleagues. At some point, I realized, I didn’t need to. Of course, having few good friends, my husband, and my kids made a huge difference in establishing my place in this world. But I still want to help my kids not worry so much about fitting in. Find few good friends and stick to them. Quality is way more important then quantity.
What others think of you should not affect your perception of yourself. You are beautiful and special just the way you are. And if you ever feel less than that, always feel free to come to me and speak your worries. I will always be there to listen.
What I communicate:
This is where bringing God in helps me. Don’t change for other people, change for God. Don’t seek the acceptance of others, seek ways to make God happy. The rest follows.
3. Take care of yourself.
A lesson we often avoid passing on because we, as parents, are busy expecting so much of our kids… things we failed to accomplish ourselves… or things we sold our souls to achieve.
I do have a gym membership, but I choose to exercise at home where my kids can see me. They ask me why I exercise everyday. I tell them because I need to take care of myself.
I don’t feel ashamed to tell them I need 10 minutes to be alone. I make sure to tell them I am going our with my girlfriends. They ask me why, why can’t we go. Well, everybody needs time to be with their own friends. I tell them about my interests, things I like doing for the sake of enjoyment. And when I get to do them I tell them I did it and it felt fantastic! And I do it because I need to take care of myself.
What I preach:
Regardless of what life throws at you, make time to self-care.
4. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
We often have heart-to-heart talks with one of my daughters because she tends to feel sorry for herself. “Nobody wants to play with me at school,” she says. I ask her if she asked them to play with her. She says, “Yes, but she was playing with another girl.” OK, did you ask another person to play with you? Did you join the two girls to play with them? No and no. Well, you can’t just sit there and wait for others to ask you to play with them. You have to put yourself out there and go after what you need. Don’t just sit around and wait.
Lately we are having a lot of stamping away and locking ourselves in our room. I ask, “Did it feel better to sit by yourself in your room?” Often the answer is ‘No’. Then how about we talk about it? How about we ask what the other person was thinking? How about we settle on a middle ground?
The most unattractive and dis-empowering character a person can have is to feel sorry for herself or himself. I give pep-talks to my kids to own it. Life gave you very sour lemons, well figure out a way to make it sweet. Think. Plan. Strategize. Seek. Ask. Don’t sit around and loath. That does nothing.
5. Don’t believe everything you think.
Negative thoughts and self-talk happens to all of us. We all feel inadequate, inconsistent, incomplete at one point or another . At many points and many more others. It starts at a very young age and the key is to recognize they are not always true and not always rational.
This one is hard to teach. The child needs to be comfortable bringing these thoughts up in a conversation. The timing needs to be right. Often these thoughts come when we are alone. It’s quite hard not to be random with this one.
How I teach it:
Point out the positive about the things I or they complain about and ask/hope they apply positivity in their self-talks.
Speaking of randomness, to wrap things up, remember life’s lessons can come from the most random sources. In my case, it was from a random conversation with a colleague I least expected to have parenting wisdom. Be open to lessons, be willing to teach lessons, and remember coping strategies are more effective method of protecting your children from the downs life throws at them.