Raising Healthy and Happy Kids

raising kids

I’ve often said to parents of clients/students and to friends of ours that I wish kids came with manuals.  A clear set of do’s and don’ts to guarantee our kids will turn out to do great things and be fantastic people.  The hours spent awake at night by parents just grueling over the right thing to do for their kids is so common.  I’ve also said many times, our kids are like parts of my heart just out walking around and the anguish I feel when they are struggling is huge.  While I know it is important to let my kids experience hard times, it doesn’t make it easy to watch.  With so many ideas about what we want for our kids, most importantly I hope that my kids are happy, healthy, and successful GOOD people.  I truly believe that is what parents want for their children however the biggest dilemma is what can parents do to help this happen?   With today’s blog I hope to share with you what I’ve experienced in the past 22 years in working with teens and families and with raising two of my own.

One of the biggest factors I believe that affects kids success is that kids have parents who have a good relationship with each other and who are engaged in their children’s’ lives.  I am not suggesting that kids with parents who are divorced have a huge disadvantage to creating a successful, happy life however I am saying that parents need to have a good relationship regardless if they are married or not.  The amount of unhappiness and stress that I have heard year after  year from kids who have parents who do not get along is staggering.  It oozes into every facet of their lives.  It consumes them.  It makes it hard to enjoy a birthday or to focus on studying for a big test.  It changes that amount of joy they can experience during their childhood.  If there is anything I can get people to understand and to really work on, it would be to find a way to get along with each other so you can be good parents to your children.  Please step outside yourself and the negative feelings you have towards your kid’s parent and really look at how the relationship you have with the other parent is honestly affecting your child.  If you need to seek counseling to address the feelings you have for your child’s parent, do it.  Resolve those feeling so that you can move past it and your child doesn’t experience the negative effects of it.  And by all means, stop bashing the other parent to your kids.  STOP IT!!!  There is nothing good that comes from that.  Nothing at all.  It destroys parts of your children and is totally unnecessary.  Kids feel secure and happiest when they have parents who get along and show respect to one another.  Kids can then focus on what is necessary for them to be successful and happy.  Ok, now that I am clear about this, let’s move on.

Kids need engaged parents.  They thrive with parents who ask about their day and the particulars of their day.  Kids need parents who will listen without any interruptions.  Find time daily to sit without anything else to distract you and listen to your kids talk and do this without judgement.  I also encourage parents to ask their kids questions to prompt their kids to think about their lives such as “what do you think it will be like to be an adult for you?”, “what kind of jobs do you think you’d like to do?”, or “what makes you happy?”.  Ours kids are blown away sometimes when they learn things about what our lives were like as young kids.  No remote for the TV? Your phone was connected to the wall?  You had a “party” line on your phone?  It’s very interesting to get kids to start thinking about the possibilities of what their lives will be like.  It starts the planning process for them.  More and more teens share with me how hard it is to think about their future.  Many are scared and feel so unprepared.  It is so important that we provide opportunities to talk about the options and to check some of these options out.  Encourage your teen to job shadow a career area they are interested in, visit different parts of the country that are different from where your family lives, take teens on college visits, talk with recruiters, etc.  And lastly, please be involved academically.  Encourage your teen to give their best effort in school.  The reality is the stakes are higher than ever.  Teens need to be persistent and do their best while at school.  I’m not a believer that college is right for everyone, however learning to work hard, to problem solve, to work together, and persist when things are tough is so necessary to be successful in the world of work.   Parents who communicate and work with school staff to ensure their kids are giving their best will help kids create a life that can be fulfilling.  By being engaged in your kids lives it shows them that you care deeply and that what they are doing is important.

Another factor that I believe is important for our kids to create successful lives is for teens to be responsible and show commitment.  Developing responsibility can begin early on in our kids’ lives through simple chores that they help with.  Their responsibility then grows as they grow.  They learn that every one has responsibilities in a family and they are responsible for their part.  I also believe teens need to be responsible to pay for some of their own things to understand the value of money.  My own kids have been shocked by the cost of things after they started working and we told them they had some financial responsibilities.  Their gas tank is filled every two weeks.  Make it last or fill it up on your own dime.  This creates an opportunity for them to have to think things out, plan, and make sacrifices and it allows this to be a learning moment for our kids and there is low risk involved.  Its a safe way for them to start making some financial decisions.  I believe that making teens keep commitments is important as well. If they begin a sport or club, it is important for them to see it all the way through.  To be a practices or meetings and to make it a priority because other people are counting on them.

And lastly, I am a big believer of parents providing structure and consistency for their kids.  By providing this, kids are able to learn what to expect and what is expected of them.  In our family, we eat dinner together.  There are times with sports practices or our kids work schedules that we need to move the time of our dinner, but most evenings we are sitting at the table and eating together and it has been a constant throughout of kids lives.  TVs and cell phones have not been allowed in our kitchen and our kids’ friends respect that rule as well.  It is our time for each other, uninterrupted and our kids have learned to count on it.  It provides an opportunity for discussion and sharing.  Curfews have also been a part of our kids lives and despite the occasional comment that “so and so doesn’t have a curfew”, our kids know that we can expect to know when each other are coming and going and we know where each other are. There is comfort for our kids and ourselves in knowing this.  I encourage parents to discuss what kind of structure they want for their family and to create it, be consistent with it, and honor it.  Kids will thrive from a structured environment.

While there are no guarantees that what parents provide will ensure growing great kids, the factors I’ve shared are common in families that I have seen raise fantastic kids.  Have their children been without crisis, drama, or tough situations? Absolutely not.  It is not a guarantee of having no strife, but it is assurance that you can provide very positive attributes that will enable your children to be happy and successful.  Teen life is full of tough situations.  There are so many decisions that kids can make that can negatively affect their lives however there are just as many good decisions as well.  I believe its time for parents to be parents and not worry about being their teen’s friend.  Our kids need parenting and so many times I find parents afraid to set limits and structure because they don’t want to upset their teen.  Providing opportunities for open communication and for them to demonstrate responsibility, being engaged in your teen’s life, and creating structure for your teen will help reduce the possibility that your teen will make impulsive, poor decisions that could negatively affect their life.  Always remember YOU are such an important and integral piece of your kid’s lives and the impact YOU make is tremendous.