Parenting Tips for Helping Your Child Reach Their Potential

Parents are inundated with mixed messages for how to raise their children. We sometimes feel we are either being too strict or pushovers. How do we find that happy medium or balance? It’s a question I’ve struggled with off and on for years, primarily as a father but also as a scholar. I’ve worked with children on each end of the spectrum, including youth who are creating and maintaining their own businesses as well as teens who had a history of being abusive.

For my upcoming book, I have interviewed individuals about their unique challenges and how to cope, as well as experts from a wide variety of fields. From all these interviews, I have found the #1 place to start if you want to help your child reach their potential, regardless where they are in life and what they’ve already done.

It is that they need to feel safe.

It may not seem all that groundbreaking or surprising, but it is one of the most overlooked needs our children have. We get caught up in the busy-ness of life, school, work, bills, and community work. Below are three tips, and they all start with the assumption that the basics of food, shelter, and clothing have been adequately provided for your child.

Tip #1. Be there. I can’t imagine growing up as a child in today’s society. There are so many mixed messages, signals, and violent media. Sexual and other provocative images are everywhere. The importance of parents is being undermined in nearly every arena, including by the government and entrainment programs. They may not say it, or be consciously aware of it, but their culture often threatens their sense of safety and trust—trust that everything will be okay, that they will be loved, that THEY will be okay, even if times may be tough right now. The only way to instill this trust and sense of safety is to be there. Be available; be present, physically and emotionally. Listen and assure them you are there for them. Let them know that even if bad things happen they will be okay and explain why. They don’t need false assurances, but they do need someone and something to trust in.

Tip #2. Affection. Being affectionate is one of the most effective ways for helping your child feel safe. A hug, a kiss on the cheek or head, or rubbing their back not only tells them you’re there for them, but it also releases a host of feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. These endorphins not only help them feel safe now, but are also a reserve for times when they are stressed. Of course, it’s important to recognize your child’s comfort level, and not push or force affection that isn’t wanted, especially in public. A genuine smile or even a pat on the back are simple but powerful expressions of affection that go a long way for helping a child reach their potential. If you are married, being affectionate with your spouse is also very helpful; so many children see their parents divorce, and having an affectionate household will help them feel safe.

Tip #3. Let them fail. Not only is there a lot of pressure on children to be successful, there is also a great deal of pressure on parents to make sure their children are successful—even at a very early age. We often think of our own childhood and wish we had something, and may try to push that onto our child. Our sense of value as a parent hinges on what our children do or can do. Or we may have a talent and expect our child to have it as well. We can also, albeit with good intentions, intervene in an attempt to keep our child from getting hurt. But be careful, because intervening may tell the child you don’t trust them to make their own decisions or their ability to learn from their mistakes. Of course, “let them fail” doesn’t mean we set a child up to fail by giving them more than they can handle, but it does mean to trust them, and they will pick up on it and have a greater sense of confidence in themselves.

 

If you are passionate helping your child reach their potential, you should check out the book my wife (Sarah) and I wrote about raising youth entrepreneurs.  Even if your child isn’t interested in starting their own business, the exact same principles from the book will help you child become more resilient, as noted by Robert Brooks, expert and author on “resiliency” books.

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