“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
As our kids grow toward independence, we can find ourselves in choppy waters, sometimes feeling unsettled. Changes are not always easy. A child or teen can come home one day and we sense a shift that we can’t quite identify. They may be processing new ideas and values that seem exciting or confusing.
Nurturing these changing relationships requires energy, time, and wisdom. We want to navigate these shifts as we sense them happening, without drawing lines in the sand.
Here are five simple tools that can help offer approval in the midst of challenges at home.
1. Choose Kind Words
We all have an imperfect past, and sometimes we may overreact, due to our own triggers. It’s easy to jump to disapproval, which can too easily shut down dialogue. The wisdom from Proverbs 15:1 guides us well: “A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up. (GNT) Taking a moment to breathe and choose kind words can help us gently approach conversations, rather than jump to conclusions. Let’s be open to opportunities for telling our own stories, too.
2. Create Time to Connect
Keeping communication open with our budding adults means talking with them and not just to them (or about them!) and listening to their hearts as well. It’s easy to over-question or offer solutions too quickly. It’s OK to admit that change can be hard, and we are still learning, too. So how do we find time to connect meaningfully? We can agree to check in with each other often to follow up on concerns or challenges; this gives us the opportunity to think and pray. During turbulent times we may want to trim our own schedule in order to show up for our kids with the time and energy needed. Time to connect is our number one priority.
3. Say yes!
Our kids want to feel our support and approval. Let’s look for ways to say yes as often as we can. “Yes, you can have a cookie, right after supper.” With older kids, a yes may be, “Yes, you can get together with Ryan again. Have him come to our house this time”.
If a request really does feel like a negative, let’s tell our kids our concerns and collaborate, together. We can let them know we trust them even if we don’t trust the situation. We can set boundaries and safeguards that will help them navigate. Always let them know we can be their excuse not to do something or to leave a situation they are uncomfortable in.
When our suggestions are met with disapproval, it is work to talk it through. Let’s remind them we are on the same team, and together we’ll partner to find a solution. Philippians 2:4 tells us: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (NASB)
Let’s keep the interests of each other in focus. Then we can return to evaluate it together. Positive connection, with kindness, takes us much further than our parental fears will, as we find our new normal.
4. Be Willing to Apologize
Parents aren’t perfect. We face our own challenges. We don’t always get it right. It’s easy to react too quickly or too negatively. When we realize we have reacted in a way we aren’t proud of, it’s important that we know how to admit it.
When we take responsibility for our own shortfalls like raising our voice, using language that isn’t kind, or allowing impatience to bubble up; we can acknowledge it, say we are sorry, and model humility.
When we can admit our own mistakes and move toward restoring peace, we may derail hostility and lay the groundwork for building positively into the relationship. We can work together on how to navigate difficult conversations. We do this by choosing a time and a place to talk calmly, or taking time out when things get too heated. We may even bring in a third party to help us understand each other’s point of view. Each positive step we take builds into the future of this important relationship.
5. Express Appreciation and Admiration
Finding things to affirm and appreciate in our kids goes a long way. Catch them in acts and attitudes that show maturing values, and comment on them. It’s important we remember to say “Thank you.” “Thanks for being patient with your brother. I noticed how well you handled it when he tried to bug you.” Or “I appreciate you being open to my concerns about too much time with Ryan. I’m glad we can figure this out together.”
Our kids won’t always remember what we said or did, but they will always remember how we made them feel. Creating a sense of approval in our homes helps our kids feel emotionally safe. We want them to feel supported when engaging with us. Let’s be sure they know (even when we disagree) that we will work to navigate the path of change together. 2 Peter 1:3 assures us: “[God’s] divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (NRSV).
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