Updated: May 6
A Guide By Emmaus Strategies
As a parent, I feel that my job is not to merely provide a comfortable life for my children (though that is somewhat important). I feel the important thing that I need to remember is to help them have peace, or what mental health professionals call being “secure”.
Too many of us may have missed out on the opportunity of being secure ourselves, let alone helping our children be secure. But the good news is that it’s never too late to start (for our children and us).
When we try to raise comfortable kids, we rob them of that opportunity to experiment, learn and grow their confidence. But when we raise secure children, we equip them with the confidence and necessary skills to navigate through life, even when we are not around them.
Raising Secure Children
But more importantly, what can one do to raise secure kids? I do not profess to know it all but I have tried some ways and hope to share some ways (P.A.L.S.) I intentionally try to help my kids be secure. These “principles” are not inventions of mine but are learning points I have taken away with me as I grow in my “secure-ness” as I relate with God and navigate through life.
1. Be PRESENT – Being There When It Counts
My four-year-old is learning swimming now. In the first few weeks of his swimming lesson, I would try to accompany him to his lessons. I would choose to sit at the gallery in plain sight of him; this so that he knows I’m always around.
But in the last couple of weeks, I started getting into the water with him but maintained a distance so as to let the swimming instructor do his work.
I have come to realise how my presence there in the water gave him some assurance. Being there when it counts e.g. at the doctor’s, at the dentist’s, at their school performances etc, is so important to our kids and it empowers them.
2. Form an ALLIANCE – And Be on Your Children’s Side
Our children need to know that we are on their side. Think about it. If you were to ask them today whether they feel you are on their side, what would their response be?
Amidst all that needs to be done, it is normal that we may sometimes get edgy when their behaviour taxes us on our already waning resources e.g. when a child creates a mess that we need to clean up.
We may feel angry and be tempted to “punish” them by making them feel shame or guilt for behaving that way.
It is useful to remember that, at this point, to call out the behaviour and not condemn the person. For example, rather than using the term “bad boy/girl” (which targets the person), use “bad behaviour” (which focuses on the behaviour).
We need our children to understand that we are on their side and that we have their interest in mind. For instance, is your interaction with them just filled with “no”s and “don’t”s?
What about focusing on the positives you see them do and reinforcing it by calling it out?
What about processing with them about why you said “no” to something; explaining it is with their interest in mind e.g. “I do not want you to fall and hurt yourself”?
What about allowing them to sometimes be a kid by giving the occasional “yes”? Have fun with them.
3. Affirm LOVE – Reaffirming Your Love to Your Children
Raising secure kids does NOT mean not punishing them when they overstep their boundaries. As parents, we need to lay hold of every “teachable moments” to help them learn the right values.
But when punishment (e.g. time-out, reduced privileges or forms of sensible physical punishments) becomes necessary and when children may feel we reject them for what they have done, we need to remind them that we still love them.
Recognize the power of “post-punishment co-processing time”. Ok, let’s ditch the “mumbo jumbo”. It simply means that after I punish my children, I would always make an effort to process with them why they are punished. I would then lead them to apologise (indicating the reason which necessitates the apology) and allow them the opportunity to ask for forgiveness.
It is at this point in time that we can affirm how much we still love them despite their failings and that we discipline them out of love. Nothing at this point communicates that love more than a hug.
4. Celebrate SUCCESS – Affirming Their Breakthroughs
Kids (and adults) take time to learn new things. Unless they are naturally gifted in it, they will intermittently succeed, make mistakes and fail as they learn.
While it is tempting to grow impatient and to desire them to learn faster, we need to instead affirm every breakthrough no matter big or small and build their confidence.
It takes deliberate intention to look out for the small successes and to reflect it back to them verbally. Show them how proud you are of them as opposed to how proud you are of their achievements.
Grounding the Security
While helping our children learn to have peace and be secure is important, we need to also help them stay humble and grounded; much like Simba in the film, The Lion King. Upon recovering his peace and the kingship, he remembers the people who helped him on his path of being secure again; his friends, his mother and even his father who spoke to him from the heavens.
In the same way, I am reminded myself that we need to also help our children remember who, in their lives, have helped them be who and where they are today and be thankful for that. Give them the opportunity to express their appreciation and gratitude.
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This article was orginally titled "How to Grow Peace through our lives (An Open Letter to Fathers)" by James Lim. For similar resources or COVID-19 mental well-being resources visit the Emmaus website http://tiny.cc/thrive-over-c19
James is the Lead Thrive-Synergist & Founder of Emmaus Strategies; a social enterprise that “fuels good”. It does this through Mental Well-Being programmes for individuals and organizations, as well as Strategic Volunteer Partnerships consultancy and training for non-profits.