Accepting Your Children for Who They Are
By: Shelly Thacker Meinhardt
|You're outgoing and love being the center of attention—but your toddler daughter is shy, clinging to you instead of having fun with the other kids in her playgroup.
Your husband has always dreamed that his son would become a star quarterback—but your little boy prefers curling up with a good book to tossing a football.
|As parents, we often glow with pride at our children's accomplishments. Yet there are also times when we feel puzzled, surprised, and—let's admit it—disappointed by their abilities, interests, or temperaments. We can't help wishing that they were just a little bit . . . different. We know we should accept our kids as they are, but that can be a challenge.|
|Why is unconditional acceptance so difficult? "Because we as parents have pre-conceived notions about our children. We have our own agenda," says Concord, Massachusetts-based parenting expert Mimi Doe, author of Busy but Balanced and 10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting. "We try to impose what we think our child should be, rather than being open to the beautiful essence of who our child is and nurturing that."|
|Modern moms and dads tend to approach parenting as a project, something we can control. We want the best for our children—the happiest childhood, the most secure future—so we try to mold them almost from birth. Instead of letting them gradually discover their own unique interests and talents, we give them constant direction, using an arsenal of scheduled activities, educational products, team sports, and private lessons to shape who they are.|
|"Our culture's gotten a little out of whack," Doe says. "I'm seeing kids who are physically, mentally, and emotionally burned out by the time they hit high school. They don't want any more organized anything."|
|Instead of imposing our own dreams and wishes on our children, we need to recognize that they came into this world with certain traits, abilities, and weaknesses that we can't change. "Our job is to tune in, discover who this person is, and ask ourselves how can we can best support them as they unfold into the world," Doe says. She offers the following five tips to help you give your child the unconditional acceptance he or she needs.|
Make listening to your child your first priority. The toddler and preschool years are an excellent time to start tuning in to your child's interests and dreams, so you can help uncover who she's meant to be. When you make listening a priority, you nurture your child's creativity and open-ended approach to life.
|"Childhood is a big buffet, a time for kids to try new things and explore and see what moves them," Doe says. "We need to be loving guides for that, rather than putting unnecessary expectations and achievement-oriented rules onto our child's play."|
|Listening also helps you stay in the moment. When you listen, you dissolve the distance between you and your child. You downshift into her rhythm instead of expecting her to come up to an adult rhythm.|
|Use Positive Words|
One of your most powerful parenting tools is also one of the simplest: your words. Doe recommends being very careful about what you say to your kids, because words have tremendous power to lift your child's spirit—or crush it. What you say is what you get. "What a child hears he believes," she says. "Positive words can give him hope and open up possibilities."
|Positive words are also contagious. Kids will learn to view their world from a positive point-of-view when they hear their parents say things like, "We're stuck in traffic. Isn't this great? We get to spend more time together on the way to school."|
Especially at this early age, it's a mistake to categorize your children, using labels like "Sam's the quiet one" or "Mackenzie's the bright one" or "Peter's going to be our little football player." It's difficult for any child to escape that kind of definition—even if you never say it out loud.
|"Kids are rapidly changing, and we need to allow our children to show us who they are today," Doe says. "When we show up each day with a sort of 'blank slate' about who our child is right now, we're open to the surprises they bring us and we can take action to help them evolve into who they're meant to be."|
|Take it Slow|
When you notice that your child has a particular talent or interest, be careful not to go overboard with your enthusiasm and encouragement. If your preschooler starts banging on the piano, for example, don't rush right out to find the best piano teacher, sign up for lessons, and make her practice every day—because you'll soon practice the joy and love of music right out of her.
|Instead, let her simply play with her newfound interest. Give her a toy xylophone and some pots and pans and to bang on. Go to the library and get a few CDs so she can hear different kinds of music. There's no need to get serious at such a young age. Remember, childhood is about exploring and discovering. Tomorrow she might decide that she hates the piano and would rather be a zookeeper.|
It's important to encourage your child's dreams, wishes, and hopes—even when they're completely different from yours. If your child declares, "I want to be a race car driver!" don't say, "Are you kidding me? You'll get killed!" Instead, look deeper and try to find the essence of that interest. Ask questions. Say, "Hmm, that's really cool. What is it about racing that interests you? Is it going fast? Having people applaud? The way a car works?" Explore a bit. Get a book from the library on race-car driving. Ask yourself, "What's the essence of this dream and how can I support that in my child?"
|You can also encourage your child by introducing her to new role-models—especially people who are quite different from you and your spouse. Invite someone interesting from your office, neighborhood, or church to dinner. Host an exchange student. If you see an article in the paper about a local artisan who makes flutes and your daughter is interested in musical instruments, contact the artist and ask if she can meet him. Expand your child's world with exciting possibilities and you'll expand your view of who your child is.|
|"Parenting is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be joyful," Doe says. "This is not something that takes an MBA. You don't have to go to any expert, other than your own deep intuition about this child, to be a fantastic parent."|
|Instead of looking at parenting as a project, look at it as a dance—one that you and your child are enjoying together. As he's discovering the world, you're discovering who he is—and giving him all the support, encouragement, and acceptance he needs to thrive.|
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