Like most of us, children gravitate toward those who will accept them. As parents, it is vital to strive to fulfill your children's emotional needs and provide a safe harbor while they establish who they will become in life.
Everyday, we make decisions that define us. Children are no different. They are constantly experimenting, testing, pushing and seeking to define themselves. They try on different personalities, clothing, make-up, styles and mannerisms and all in an effort to not only discover and establish who they are, but to seek the acceptance of those around them.
Our role, as parents, guardians or nurturers, is to give them a safe place and unconditional love, free of harsh judgments and labels, while they are doing this. Sometimes we are quick to do battle when they grow their hair or shave it off or mohawk it. When they put on the eyeliner and black nail polish. When they listen to their choice of music at a high volume.
The one message they need to hear is, "I love you no matter what." If they hear it enough, they will hopefully believe it and come to you when the bottom falls out.
This does not mean we don't have to do battle at all. This just means we have to choose our battles thoughtfully, prayerfully and carefully.
I have many battlescars from doing it wrong and a few stripes for doing it right. It is no different from you, I'm sure.
Speak with them privately. When the need arises to speak with with your children about your concerns, do it privately. Don't embarrass them. Show them that you care enough to take them aside and invest the time in them.
Look your child directly in the eye. The eyes don't lie. If you love them, they will see it and know that you mean what you say.
Make physical contact. A hand on the shoulder, holding their hand, cradling their face in your hands. Make contact as a sign of love.
Ask questions. Open the dialogue and give them time to respond. Ask direct questions. "Is there something that you feel you have no control over?" "Are you friends with someone that makes you feel uncomfortable?" "Do you feel pressured to do this?" Ask in a way that is free from accusation.
Listen. Wait for the cues, listen with your heart and refrain from jumping in and finishing sentences or taking over the conversation. Give them time, even during long pauses. Don't try to rush through because you have other obligations. Children are our greatest investment.
Always deliver the message with an abundance of love. "I don't approve in any way of what you are doing, but I do love you no matter what."
Plan some one-on-one time. Make a date with your child. Do something special together. Go to a movie. Work at a soup kitchen. Go for a hike. Show your children that they are worth your time. Don't shut down if they don't accept your invitation. Just keep inviting.
Pray for them. In your blessing of the food, family prayer and in private, pray by name for your children. Don't be afraid to let them hear you pray for them, but try not to use phrases that would guilt them into behaving. Remember, you want them to be good people because it is the right thing to do, not because they feel guilty for doing otherwise.
You were once like them. Remember that you were once young and experimented with different personalities and characteristics. Remember the pain and pressure that you sometimes went through, the mistakes you made and the lessons you learned the hard way.
Above all, realize who they are. These children are also God's children and he has entrusted them to you for a short time. Treat them as such. They are of divine birth. Speak to them as if they already are the adults you want them to someday be.
Children are an inheritance unto the Lord. They are are greatest investment and we should provide for their needs and love them unconditionally. If we provide them with safety and love and a lot of acceptance, they will gravitate to us in times of stress and need. They will be more inclined to open up to us with their very real issues. We need to make these few precious years count.