We are parenting in a world that, from the outside, can seem more connected than ever.  With the rise in technology, our kids are plugged in to their friends, the community and the world almost all of the time. Although it would appear that this phenomena might bring us closer to people, the reality is that this tech-connectivity can create a false sense of real connection. Our kids (and adults too) are craving REAL human connection.  A sense of belonging and comfort and mutual presence and engagement. They crave understanding and empathy and unconditional love. Oftentimes, few of these needs are filled at school, on their phone, on social media or even with peers or teachers.

What our kids need from us is this GENUINE connection.

When they arrive home from school, it can be tempting to extend the lessons and practice from school into home life. It can seem important (especially if they are struggling) to reinforce the messages the teachers send, address school-day events and choices and re-examine the day for further “learning” opportunities. The truth is though, rarely are our kids desperately in need of homework reminders, further disciplining on school issues, study buddies or tutors.  They have an abundance of these throughout their busy, stress-filled days.Their minds are exhausted and many times their bodies under-stimulated.

What they do need is likely very similar to what you need when you come home from a hard or stressful day:

  • A soft place to land.
  • A consistent base where the adults are predictably available for conversation or connection.
  • Someone to model emotional regulation and hold space for their big feelings.
  • Time and space to move, pursue passions, explore and grow.

Most of us remember how it felt to be a student. We remember that we were juggling many tasks and responsibilities, not to mention all of the complex psychological and emotional challenges of social interactions, puberty and expectations. Often, reminiscing on our own youth, we recall that we were doing the best we could and we just wanted the adults around us to see and acknowledge that. Our kids are no different. Despite how stubborn, closed off, defiant and frustrating they may seem… they share many of these same sentiments.

We often want to lecture.  To give them advice from OUR position as adults, far beyond the school-aged struggles and hormonal nightmares of childhood. I would encourage you to do this though:

Consider the advice YOU wanted when you were a kid.

Not what you believe you deserved. Not what you were actually given.

Think about what you really, truly, in the depths of your being, desired.

Was it advice based on your parent’s life. Their needs. Their feelings?

I’m guessing it likely wasn’t.

This can be a hard one for us as parents. After all, we’ve done a lot. We’ve made a lot of mistakes and gained a lot of wisdom the hard way.  We want to advise from our shoes. Our shoes just don’t fit though. What do we do then?

The struggle is only further inflamed when our exhausted children, facing expectations they cannot meet, problems they cannot solve or dealing with unmet emotional needs, begin to show adverse behavior as a result.  Many times this behavior is labelled defiant or “attention-seeking”. Kids whose behavior is sending an “attention-seeking” message is most likely EXACTLY that.  An instinctual and subconscious cry for their unmet needs to be addressed.

In the same way that “learning brains” cannot engage when students aren’t fed, slept or physically safe, unmet emotional needs can also lead to “survival” brain kicking in. Here, the  prefrontal cortex (home of executive function and higher thinking) is turned offline, while the emotional, reactionary midbrain and brainstem take over, reacting pre-thought with actions that often present as “misbehavior” or “attention-seeking”. In this moment, ignoring, scolding or punishing will only further threaten a brain already on red-alert.

Instead, by making our words kind and compassionate and by addressing (instead of disciplining or ignoring) the unmet emotional need, problem or expectation causing issues, we can help to calm the “survival brain” down and regain the function of the upper, logical, reasoning, learning brain. Some believe this will spoil the child or create a  “needy” or “manipulative” attitude, but in fact the opposite is true. Manipulation, neediness and dependency come from a LACK of emotional security and attachment, not an abundance of them.

There are a few understandings which we need to bring to the surface here. These may, one level, seem simple and obvious, but many of us are not operating in our parenting with these as our foundational ideologies. When we lay our actions and our words up against the backdrop of these premises, they don’t align.

Here are some examples of concepts you might consider:

Kids want to do well in their lives (in other words, if it were up to them, kids would prefer to find success).
Kids are competent to make many of the decisions that will lead to their best life.
The path to success in life is not a narrow goat trail. In fact, it is wide and branching, and there are often many paths.
The point of parenting is not to exercise more and more control over our kids, but to facilitate their growth and independence such that they can pursue their interests passionately and find success on their own.

Our children, although they are young and inexperienced, are wired to live their lives and find their way.  They will do this, regardless of our influence, in some way or another.  As parents, we do not bear the burden of being the sole catalyst for the progression of our children’s lives.  They have been instilled with their own inner drive, purpose, talents and capabilities.  Our job then is not to make them into anything. Our role is simply to help them realize what they already are, and provide them with the love, encouragement, space and emotional skills to fully actualize all of their “inboard” potential.

As parents, it often helps to view our role as that of consultant in our kids education.  We are present for observation and safety (more so with younger kids) and available for help (if requested).  Instead of stepping in at every turn, we allow our young people the space to grow, face challenges, recover and build problem solving skills. We trust they want things to work out, are capable of coming up with solutions, and if need be, to recover from mistakes. Then we give them the freedom to show us.

Your kids don’t need you to teach them math skills or have a doctorate in English literature to help them with their grade nine LA report.  They have teachers and peers and professionals that are more than competent to help in these departments. If you aren’t certain of this, take some time to get to know them.  Ask them. Instead, become that steady, non-judgemental, guiding force.  Support them in seeking out answers or solutions or assistance, all the while loving them regardless.

Then you’ll see something miraculous happen:

They will find their bravery. They will get invested. 

They will get THEMSELVES through school. 

What they need is a parent who is wild about them.  They need you.  Your love, support and undying belief in them.  They need a sense of attachment and safety from you.

Strong roots from which to rise up and face the world.

They also need the skills and resiliency to face the big challenges.

Strong wings to fly.   Roots and wings.

This is how we raise kids who launch.

Jacquie Ganton, Educator, Founder of Evolve Education Consulting
Speaker for the 2021 April Online Children’s Mental Health Symposium

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