How to Help Your Child Go the Extra Mile

This is the first of a series of blogs on Raising Happier Humans.

Many of us have forgotten to trust our children to learn, grow, and mature.

We reward them for a good grade, and take their video game privileges away for a bad grade. We nag them to get their homework done, monitor their work, obsess over their progress, and apply excessive pressure to perform in hopes that they are accepted into the best universities.

Moreover, we oblige our young people as they cross into adulthood to choose practical vocations in pursuit of security and status over following one’s dreams; a compromise that haunts our children for years to come. In essence, we value grades, compliance, and achievement over the love of learning, relationship, and happiness.

I know I found myself pushing my children at times. Looking back, I realize it was in actuality an attempt to calm my own anxiety and feelings of helplessness regarding their future. I love my children, and wanted what was best for them. We all do. But placing external controls on them and pushing them to succeed is not the answer.

The truth is that placing external controls on a child only teaches them to comply. It also gives them the message that they are not capable of doing or thinking for themselves.

And when we push them, or when they believe they are not capable, they either become anxious, stressed, and easily overwhelmed, or depressed, unmotivated, and quit at the first sign of difficulty.

I see this all the time in therapy, especially amongst teens. They come to my office anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed. They worry about getting their homework done, failing grades, college applications and/or living up to the unrealistic expectations of parents, teachers, and society. They complain of being tired, sad, unmotivated, behind in their work and frustrated that they have no control over their own lives. They share deep feelings of loneliness and worthlessness. These young people also report not feeling seen or heard by their parents and/or teachers. Some are inundated with extracurricular activities, while others are overwhelmed with chores at home and taking care of younger siblings while their parents are working. Almost all communicate an overall sense of hopelessness in the future.

What I have learned over the years as a mother of three, and a therapist working in the schools is what parents describe as laziness or entitlement are actually our child’s lack of autonomy necessary to self-direct one’s own life, and the resilience essential to carry-on when life gets difficult.

For autonomy-the freedom to self-direct one’s own life-is the key to motivation, physical and mental health, academic success, and happiness.

It is possible to achieve this in your home.

I have found these five principles to be quite supportive in helping our children and teens overcome the stress and anxiety of life, feel more motivated, and go the extra mile at home, in school, and in life:

1. ) Trust them to self-direct their own lives.

This does not mean that you leave them to their own devices. As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure that our children are safe.

This does mean that we trust that they are capable of self-direction such as making important decisions or choosing their friends, what to wear, and/or what to eat.

And when trust is a prevailing value in our homes, feelings that, “I am worthy,” or “I can do anything I set my mind to” become our child’s prevailing beliefs.

2.) Love them unconditionally.  

When a child understands without a doubt that there is nothing they can do that will change a parent’s love for them, they then feel worthy.

And, when a child feels worthy, they are more likely to work hard and try new things.

This means no strings attached.

3.) Allow them to be part of the decision process.

When a child is given the freedom to collaborate in decision-making, they feel heard, seen, and important.

And when a child feels important, they are more apt to believe in themselves, take themselves seriously, and achieve their goals.

4.) Let them choose the activities that they want to participate in, and the peers they want to hang out with.

When we trust our children to choose their own activities and friends, they learn to make important decisions, and/or adjust accordingly when things go awry.

Again, this does not mean that you leave them to fail alone. This does mean that we give them the freedom to fail if necessary.

We can support them without rescuing them.

Because it is within the disappointment and defeat that they gain the resiliency to carry on.

5.) Allow them to express themselves freely through clothing, music, food, etc. without passing judgment.

By allowing your child to freely express themselves, they are more able to let loose the “free-spirited parts” of themselves.

This allows them to imagine their future without risk, as well as their place in the world.

And when they can imagine this place, they are more likely to know what they want and work towards getting there, ultimately achieving their goals.

This list is just a few of the ways we can help our children learn, grow, and mature.

What is on your list?

Deanne Brown is an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor. She is also a parenting expert. She has a passion for helping parents and their children achieve Better Lives and Better Relationships. 

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