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The Turkey Day Classic Parade is held in downtown Montgomery, Ala. on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday November 23, 2017. (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery Advertiser)
Mickey Welsh / Advertiser

On any given day, we can either parent reactively or intentionally. Reactive parenting means we respond to our kids out of whatever emotions or thoughts we happen to be having that day.

We’ve all done it and sometimes with good results, especially if we’re having a good day. But most parents will agree that they make better choices when they parent out of values and principles rather than emotions.

More: Parenting: Be a coach to your kids — not their judge and jailer

From the time our babies are born, we can intentionally help our children build a strong sense of identity by the purposeful things we say and do.

So what messages will we deliberately communicate to help our children build a healthy sense of identity?

If we want our children to believe that they are inherently strong, creative and capable, we will purposely give them many opportunities each day to find solutions to their own problems. But without setting a goal to do this, we might parent reactively and hand our child the toy she is struggling to reach.

This doesn’t mean we don’t show support. In fact, one of the messages we ought to communicate on purpose is that our kids are part of a team whose members are loyal to each other and committed to each other’s success. But the best support encourages kids to try hard, be creative and even risk failure along the path to success.

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If we want our children to believe they are worthy of love and connection, we will purposely respond to their needs. Again, this doesn’t mean doing things for them that they can for themselves, but it may mean putting aside our own agendas to listen to their stories or to comfort them after a disappointment. It may mean slowing down to let a little one practice tying her shoes or delaying dinner to rock a fussy baby and sing soothing lullabies to calm her down.

More: Parental authority is grounded in relationship

If we want our kids to believe they are worthy of love and connection, it’s important to find ways to make them feel celebrated instead of just tolerated.

Our little ones also need to know they are protected and secure. If we decide ahead of time that this is an important message to communicate to our children, we may be less apt to force a toddler to give her great aunt a hug and kiss. At that point, saving face will be less important than demonstrating to the child that she is safe when she is with us.

If we want our children to believe they are their own people and not an extension of us, we will celebrate our pre-schooler’s unusual clothing choices and insistence on three pony tails and one braid.

We don’t get to choose which moments will define our children’s understanding of themselves and the world around them, but we can make some decisions ahead of time about the messages we want to convey, knowing that our words and actions will have a tremendous impact on how they grow and think.

Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman host POP Parenting, a one-hour weekly syndicated talk radio show. For more information, go to www.jenniandjody.com, visit the Jenni and Jody Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @JenniandJody.

 

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