Yesterday I watched my tween daughter cry and couldn’t do anything about it.
When she was little, eliciting a smile or solving her problem was as simple as a tickle attack or an ice cream sundae. Over the years it got more complicated and I soon needed a good repertoire of knock-knock jokes and One Direction dance moves. But even humor doesn’t always help.
When it comes to a 10-year-old’s problems, I don’t have very many answers. And the answers I did have seemed much more like a lecture I knew she didn’t want to hear.
So, how can we make our children feel important and empowered?
Jokingly, a new-mama friend of mine told me she makes her 2-month-old daughter feel important by waking up in the middle of the night and feeding her. If only it we always so easy!
While not easy, it is still possible. Here are five sneaky ways we can empower our children and make them feel important:
1. Encourage them to create solutions to their own problems.
This is the approach I took with my daughter yesterday. Rather than dishing out my own suggestions or lectures (which was hard not to do), we talked through each troubling situation. I asked her, “What do you think a good solution would be?” Her immediate response was always, “I don’t know,” followed by tears and sniffles. Yet, before the night was finished, she came up with some pretty good ideas.
At the very least, you could offer two or three solutions and allow your child to pick what seemed best. This way, the solution is their choice. It can improve their confidence in their ability to handle the problem and help them find success even through their struggles.
2. Know your child’s love language and secretly speak it.
Gary Chapman is the author of several different books about five different ways we express and receive love. Chapman calls them love languages. Understanding how your child likes to receive love can help you show your child how important he or she is.
Angela Teachout is a busy mom of nine kids — 9 years old and younger. Teachout is raising her children — four adopted and five biological — in Gilbert, Arizona. She feels very strongly that the success in her home hinges on her knowledge of each child’s love language and her ability to make each of them feel important.
“I have two children that really enjoy getting hidden notes that I leave for them; one child needs me to bring him back something every time I leave, even if it’s just a rock; and the others really love when I am constantly praising them and telling them positive things I like about them,” Teachout said. “I find if I try to meet my kids love languages every single day, my life is less stressful because they’re happy and feel fulfilled.”
3. Speak positively about your children.
A longtime friend of mine has teenagers and young adult children. Never once have I noticed her speaking negatively about them or posting negative things about them on Facebook or Instagram. What a great example.
We can carry this over to our homes as well and always speak positively about our children, both in front of them and when they are not listening.
4. Provide chances for your children to use their strengths — and tell them about it.
Just as it’s important for us to be aware of our own strengths and talents. It’s also important for us to recognize talents in our children. I know we’re trying to be sly here, but we can be a mirror for our children, showing them (or rather telling them) the great things we see in them.
Then, we can take it a step further and provide opportunities in our home and during family or community activities for our children to use their talents and shine.
5. Listen with your eyes and ears.
We feel important when we are noticed and heard. Our children are just the same — from the tiny toddler to the adventurous adult.
We usually don’t intentionally ice out our kids. Often we are just tired, busy, stressed or a combination of the three. Yet, how we approach or avoid our children can influence their self-worth. With a few simple changes to your body language, how much more could you empower your children?
Sara Summers, a Utah mom with two young girls, thinks it’s important to really listen to our children. “Their days are just as important as ours! When my daughter is struggling with something, I encourage her and let her know I’m proud of her.”
We can drop down to our child’s level, hold their hand and look them in the eyes when they are explaining to us (for the eighteenth time) why their LEGO creation is a boat and not a spaceship. When in a conversation with our school-age children, we can turn our body to them and tuck our cellphone away, letting them know they are more important than our Wi-Fi access.
If none of the above ideas seem to work, we can hug them. As they get older, we’ll have to be sneaky with our hugs, too.
This article originally published as a regular column on KSL.com