Children are precious stewards of our future; caring for them and raising them to be healthy, well-adjusted adults should be our ultimate priority. In a world increasingly fraught with danger, tragedy, and uncertainty, it is more vital now than ever to equip our children with the social and emotional skills that they will need to navigate their world that is sure to be vastly different than ours.
Whether you are a parent, a friend, an aunt, uncle, or grandparent, the responsibility lies with you to ensure that each child you come in contact with has the tools that they need to become successful, fully functioning adults. How can you take your precious time with these precious ones and use it in ways that enrich everyone involved? Here are some simple ways that you can foster their natural curiosity, innovation, and intelligence in ways that boost their self-esteem and increase their confidence exponentially. Practice them with utmost integrity, for you are making the ultimate investment in the life and health of another:
Foster creativity, even if it gets messy
There are times when you just want to rip down those many finger paintings and fold up the epic blanket fort that they created in the living room, but stifling these creative urges sends the message that their ideas and imagination are not valid or important. Resist the urge to clean up after them all the time, and realize that in this flurry of creativity, it's going to get messy for a while. Breathe through it and celebrate their innovation, knowing that things will not always be this chaotic. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Teach them the value of personal space
While children need structure for daily activities, they also need to learn that it's okay to have a bit of personal space and time freedom as well. Let them explore this free time and find pursuits that interest them; in doing so you will be teaching them that their passions and interests should be nurtured, and that they will be allowed to grow and develop as individuals.
We as adults have forgotten the spontaneity of playing; we find ourselves distracted by "to do" lists, endless mental chatter of things that we should be tending, and things that we would rather be doing than racing trucks around on the floor. Time is precious; engaging in these special moments with your children will teach them that they are worth your time, and that you are truly interested in what makes them happy. If you want to be intentional about it, set the timer, put everything else aside, and spend this time in the moment and in play, remembering how it feels to be a kid again. Be all in, and your kids will remember this for the long haul.
Have a routine
There is comfort in routine; kids feel safe, and they know what to expect of the day's activities. Strike a delicate balance between routine and unstructured time where you create together, and teach your children the value of each in their lives. They will appreciate this lesson on balance as they get older.
Model emotional investment in yourself
As you teach your children to embrace balance in life, you must also model balance in work and in play. Let your children see you following your passions and fostering relationships outside the family; as they see you create healthy boundaries for yourself, they will learn what that looks and feels like, and they are more likely to create that for themselves as part of a well-rounded life.
Praise, praise, praise
Speak well of your children, both when you are with them, and about them in the company of others. Your children base their self-esteem largely upon the words that you speak to them and about them; infuse them with positive words and high regard, and you'll be raising children that have a healthy self-concept, able to interact well in and with the world around them.
Celebrate family time
Emphasizing the gift and the support of family will be essential as they learn to create a support system for themselves that will sustain them as adults. While this support system may take several different forms, learning to create healthy relationships starts with family; model good communication and interpersonal habits to teach your children how to negotiate and interact with others.
Get support and find resources if you need them
At times, being able to emotionally invest in your children may be too much for you to handle. If you feel that you can't emotionally invest in your children without assistance, there are programs that can provide you with support and resources for management of stressed and troubled youth. Reach out and connect with others to find additional help when you need it; at times it truly does take a village......
Invest now for long term results
While life may be busy, hectic, and downright unmanageable at times, the time you spend investing in children and their social and emotional development will be largely worth it when you see them grow and mature into wonderful, fully functional adults. Connect with them, love them, appreciate them, and set them up for success as best you can, knowing that your efforts will not go wasted or unnoticed.