There are different levels of support that a parent can provide, depending on the age and maturity levels of their child. When a child is very young, the supportive parent can do relatively simple things such as posting a drawing on the refrigerator after giving the child rave reviews on their creation. The supportive parent must give the child their undivided attention when the child has something to say.
How many times do you see a mother or father completely ignore a small child who calls their name out over and over again, as if they don’t hear them. Do you find yourself thinking, “Answer your child!” Obviously its important to teach your child that they are not to interrupt while the parent is in the middle of another conversation, but even then, the parent should lean to the child and whisper, “Wait until mommy is finished with this conversation,” rather than just ignoring the child. Not only is that teaching your child to be courteous, but it is also being supportive. You are acknowledging your child’s needs, but asking them to wait their turn.
As the child gets older and more mature, their need for support changes. A teenager’s need for emotional support is more complex than before. They have a need to be heard and to be respected by their parents. Too many children do not treat their parents with respect, and when you ask them why they disrespect their parent, they will respond that their parents don’t give them respect so why should they give respect to their parent? That’s a good point, actually. Most parents do not consider their teenagers as children, and they do not consider them adults either. Somewhere along the way, the teenager is dismissed and the parent forgets that the teenager has needs too. The teen is left to fend for themselves and sometimes make self-destructive decisions such as drugs, alcohol or reckless behavior.
So, how do you support your teenager? First of all, supporting does not mean letting them do whatever they want to do. They need to know that you care, and showing that you care means making some unpopular decisions. If your teen wants to go somewhere, its important to let them know that you care enough about them to find out where, how long and with whom. Some parents have blind faith and don’t even inquire as to where their child is going and this can often be interpreted as uncaring or unsupportive by a teen.
What if they want to do something and you feel it would be dangerous or inappropriate at their age? Well, being supportive means explaining your point of view and hopefully you can compromise a happy medium with your teen. But sometimes that is not an option, and the answer no with an explanation, is all you can do. They may get angry with you for the moment, but that too, will pass. And eventually they will realize that you made the decision out of love.
Supporting your teenager also means being active in their interests. Transporting them to and watching their sporting events, talking with their teachers to find out how they’re doing in school, asking to see their homework, and also making them responsible for chores at home. Don’t forget to make time to sit down (uninterrupted) to talk with your teenager about how things are going at school, with their friends, or other activities. This shows that you respect them and are supportive of them. Giving them this type of attention is not difficult to do, but often times, parents believe that because their child is no longer “young” that this type of attention is not as important. The truth is, that it is actually a very important and necessary thing in a young adult’s life, because they are now making decisions that may affect the rest of their lives. This is when they need the most advice and support from their parents.
But that type of conversation and supervision should not begin when the child becomes a teenager. Supportive dialog should have begun as an infant, and continued into the teen years. It is not uncommon for parents to realize that the child needs more structure and supervision after things have gotten out of control. Unfortunately, if you haven’t set the guidelines and rules before they become teens, its going to be very difficult to make an impact now.
Supporting a Grown & Independent Child
Once again, the role of a supportive parent changes once the child has grown up and moved away from the home. The only way you can ensure that your grown child will come to you for advice or support is to make sure that you offer advice ONLY when asked. Hopefully, you have raised your child to make good decisions and be a responsible adult. Now, they are here to get practical advice or comfort from the parent, and your supportive role means you will not criticize their decisions or make them feel like they are failing at adulthood. Of course they will make mistakes and they will also make decisions that you disagree with. But your role as a supportive parent is to be their cheerleader and their safe place to come home to.
What if they make a decision that you disagree with? Well, you can give them your non-judgmental perspective on the situation and then tell them that either way they decide to go you will support them. I guarantee that if they walk away from you feeling better than when they came to you, they will come back to you the next time they need your love, advice and support.
And the best part is they will know what it means to be a loving and supportive parent and this will be passed on to their children.