Raising emotionally strong girls is an ongoing process. We are not there yet. Not at all. I do not have all the answers, but I have used several strategies in the classroom, my principal’s office, and my home that have helped girls grow emotionally. These strategies are not always celebrated in our “child first society”, but they are effective in a loving environment. Growing strong girls is not easy, but life isn’t easy. We need to prepare them to be able to respond to what life throws at them and we need to be patient with the messy process.
Just because I can, doesn’t mean I will.
My girls were really “lucky” to have their mom as the principal. I had a key that opened every door in the building. Anytime they forgot something we rushed back to school so they could get it. NO….SORRY….THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. They could use the key once during the school year. I think they used it twice over a course of years. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I will.
When one daughter in fifth grade chose to wait until the last minute to complete a project the night before, I stayed up with her and helped her finish. NO…SORRY…THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN EITHER. I went to bed. I had a job, she had hers. She got a C. She learned more lessons that night about life than if I would have helped her. Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I will.
I could rush in and save my daughters most of the time, but I do not. I let them struggle. The struggle helps the lessons we learn to stick.
Are you being a problem solver?
“Hey Mom! I can’t figure out this problem!”
“How have you tried to solve it?”
“Come back when you have tried it two different ways.”
I am not lazy. I can help them after I have seen an effort on their part of solving the problem. I do this a couple ways. When they were younger, I would give them a couple ways they could solve a problem and then they could choose which way. As they grew older, I would ask them how they solved the problem before coming to me. This was with homework, each other, social situations, etc. and now, as they are older, they usually tell me the problem and how they are going to attempt to solve the problem.
A conversation when they tattled on each other would look like this:
“Mom, Grace will not give me a turn.”
“Mom, but she…”
“Girls, would you like to figure out how to solve this or do you want me to solve this? If I solve this, I will take the toy and nobody will be allowed to play with it for a long time. If you solve the problem, you can still play with it. Here are some ways that you can solve it.” And I would give them options. Now, at 13 and 15, I will simply ask, “Would you like me to step in?” and their answer is usually, “No.”
As a professional that has worked with children through college, I can see that problem-solving skills are very important at every age level. We, as parents, have to give them opportunities to be problem solvers in all situations at home and school. As they get better at it, their confidence grows in this skill area. There is always a time that you may need to step in, but we should allow them the opportunity to work through it first. I never get upset when they have tried to solve it and it fails. I love complimenting their creative problem-solving skills. You will often here our girls say, “Hey! I was trying to be a problem solver.” Even if the fire trucks show up.
Give them the space and grace to grow.
I have a daughter that has struggled with anxiety since she was eight. It is a fine line to allow her to struggle, give her the tools to deal with it, and the opportunities to overcome it. It is not easy. I get anxiety through it because I hate seeing my daughters hurt or struggle. I have learned that the struggle teaches them so much more than me trying to fix everything. In my heart, I hate to watch it, but because she has struggled, she has so much empathy for others and she has learned so many valuable tools to deal with it.
Recently, she had to make a decision about saying yes to be on a team or not. She was obsessing over all of the possibilities socially, academically, etc. and then she said to me, “I think I may be overthinking this! I am just going to say yes and see what happens!” Yay!!! She didn’t have paralysis of analysis. She recognized it, worked it out, and made a decision! GROWTH!!!!!!
We have a tendency to suffocate our children. I can be guilty of this. I have learned that giving them enough space to make decisions, independence to try new things, and welcoming arms to fail into is an amazing growth opportunity.
Allow them to feel pain and disappointment and help them process it.
My husband didn’t make Little League his first year. I sat the bench my entire freshman year in softball. I actually had a real splinter in my butt because I couldn’t sit still on the bench. Those moments fueled a fire in us to get better.
Being left out is okay. My daughter was not invited to many parties in elementary/middle school. The kids would tell her because her mom was the principal and I might not approve. Or maybe they didn’t like her. We really do not know. Many tears were shed, but she learned many lessons through that. She learned what a real friend is and her value isn’t based on the acceptance of her peers. This was a VERY hard, but valuable lesson.
Small and big disappointments help us grow. Low grade on a test? Not making a team? Not playing a position you want? This is life. We have to let them experience this.
I see parents on a daily basis orchestrating their kids’ lives so that there is constant success. Everyone is an all-star. Everyone gets a prize. Everyone makes the team. Parents make excuses. Parents tell their kids how great they are and that they are the best. What does this do? This creates a trap of complacency in our kids. We tell them, “You are the exception! You are great!” This helps our kids slide into the habits of excuse making and doing just enough to get by.
When my daughters do not make a team or a show, I tell them to get better. We have a pity party with chocolate and I listen to their disappointments and frustrations. They cry. They sulk. Then, I say, “How will you get better? What is your plan?” Disappointment and failure prepare them for life and make them resilient. They need practice working through this with me before they go into the real world.
There have been so many situations where I see adults, including me, just wanting to tell kids what to do because it is fast and easy. However, the process of learning is so much more complex than that. Parenting is truly being our child’s first teacher in more areas than academic. Their emotional growth depends on our responses, opportunities to grow them, and the way we view success. I do not view success as reaching a certain goal. I view success as hard work, decision making, good risk taking, failure, and learning. In the long run, this creates young adults that realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them, creative problem solvers that exceed expectations, and confidence in what they are created to be. Sit back, mom and dad, and allow your child to truly grow. The long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term struggle.