We all want our children to have “the best” of everything—and these days, that might seem like the best prom dress, the best graduation present, the best summer camp experience … the list goes on. But sometimes in our relentless focus on the best things, we lose sight of what’s really important—the gifts money can’t buy.
Below is a list of intangible gifts we can give our children, These gifts will help children develop the “best” qualities: being respectful, responsible, resilient and compassionate.
1) Gift of Your Time, Presence & Connection.
In real estate, the key phrase is “location, location, location.” For children, the key phrase must be “connection, connection, connection.” Parents may spend a lot of time with your children and still not really be there for them. Children need your presence. This means “tuning in”, listening, responding from your heart rather than your head, and observing your children with no agenda. In other words, being present and experiencing their beauty and the joy they create in your life. When you are truly present, they will feel your love.
2) Gift of Feelings.
Feelings are not right or wrong—this especially applies to uncomfortable feelings. Expressing feelings is healthy and allows a child to get support and problem-solve. When parents don’t like their child’s uncomfortable feelings, they often attempt to block, minimize, or deny those feelings by scolding, ridiculing, shaming, ignoring or yelling. The result is that children’s feelings become internalized, denied or disconnected. When parents don’t accept their children’s feelings, there is a consequence as children disconnect from themselves, and this creates unhappiness as well as misbehavior.
3) Gift of Unconditional Love /Acceptance.
Make sure your child knows that if given a choice of all the children in the world, he or she is the one you would choose, quirks and all.
4) Gift of Empathy.
Empathy is one of the most important parenting tools and essential for healthy relationships. Parents need to communicate empathy at every age—especially in the difficult moments. Empathy means letting your child know that you understand how they feel (even when you don’t “like” it!).
5) Gift of Limits & Boundaries.
Children need and want limits despite their protests. Clear, consistent limits and rules based on your values, provide safety and security. Setting limits teaches children the critical life skill of setting healthy boundaries for themselves.
6) Gift of Boredom.
Children and teens need unstructured, down time so that they can cultivate interests and figure out what they enjoy. Down time gives children time to think, feel, create, and soul-search. Our fast-paced world is overflowing with technology and electronics. Children have constant access to TV, computers, cell phones, ipods, video and hand held games. While these advances can be educational, helpful and convenient, parents need to set limits around electronics. A child who spends a lot of time “plugged in” becomes:
accustomed to external stimulation
accustomed to intense experiences
accustomed to being entertained
accustomed to instant gratification
When children are given the gift of down time and even boredom, they have the opportunity to look inward, to discover themselves, their feelings their needs. Down time creates an opportunity for them to “take action” in their lives rather than have “action” come to them. It is through down time that creativity emerges and children learn how to be alone without being lonely.
7) Gift of Struggle & Disappointment.
While it is natural for parents to want to protect their children, it is important for them to allow children the freedom to make their own decisions. They need to experiment, make mistakes, and fail (yes, fail). When mistakes happen (or are about to happen), we need to stand back rather than interfere. Afterwards, we can listen, empathize with their anger or pain, and then ask what a better choice may have been. If we jump in to solve their problems or rescue them, we deprive them of critical learning opportunities. Through struggle, confidence is built, self-discovery deepens, and perseverance and problem solving skills develop.
This is often easier said than done as it is difficult to see our children disappointed or hurt. When our children don’t get what they want, struggle at something others are naturally good at, or aren’t included by certain peers, it can be painful to parents. Our tendency may be to jump in and rescue them. By easing their pain, we are often attempting to relieve our own. However, children need to develop resiliency skills so that they are capable of handling life’s inevitable pain, fear, challenges, and disappointments. Rescuing our children from disappointment deprives them of the opportunity to develop these critical life skills.
8) Gift of Conflict.
Conflict pushes many parents’ “buttons.” This may be especially true for parents who work. Some feel guilty about the little time they have to spend with their children and they certainly don’t want to “waste” precious time in conflict or anger. Because limit-setting and discipline often cause anger and conflict, many parents find themselves avoiding it altogether. Conflict is part of life and it is okay. In fact, it is through conflict that children learn to understand their emotions, control their impulses, take responsibility, express themselves authentically, move towards solutions and develop empathy.
9) Gift of Chores and Responsibilities.
Chores and responsibilities help children feel valuable to the family. They learn that they are accountable and that there are consequences when they don’t hold their end of the bargain.
10) Gift of Mistakes and Imperfection.
Teach and model for children that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s okay to be imperfect. Children learn more from what we do than from what we say. When we make mistakes, it is important to apologize, take responsibility for our actions and repair the mistake.
by Lauren Bondy, LCSW and Karen Jacobsen, MA, LCPC, LMFT