I’ve worked with kids for a long time—first as a character performer at Disney, then as a teacher, Guidance Counselor, & tutor.
I’ve worked with kids in the public setting and in private. I’ve worked with kids from every income bracket and family dynamic imaginable. I’ve worked with gifted students and students with disabilities. I even worked with big kids doing intake interviews for a drug & alcohol rehab center where I heard the intimate stories, often from childhood, that led them there.
And while I don’t by any means consider myself an expert (just come to my house any day during homework time with my 6-year-old), I do have some serious field knowledge—I’ve heard and seen the gamut when it comes to parent-child dynamics…the good, the bad, and everything in between.
These are 10 takeaways I’ve learned over the years from working with kids and adults reflecting on their childhood. You may feel, like me, that so much of this goes without saying, but I’m continually reminded over the years that it doesn’t. Even with the experience and education I’ve had, parenting my own child is far more challenging than working with another’s. Working with kids, parenting…it’s hard, and not everyone had a great model for it. What I do believe is that it’s never too late to do better or begin again.
1. You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating because, if we could REALLY get this, it would be the biggest game-changer for kids’ well-being & happiness: ALL THEY REALLY WANT AND NEED IS YOU–your LOVE and your TIME. More accurately than time, kids want your ENGAGED PRESENCE. If time available to spend with your child is limited, be sure to at least engage with your full presence immediately upon seeing them after a long day. Fifteen fully engaged minutes laughing together and listening about their day is better than an entire day spent together where your body is present but your mind and heart are somewhere else. But, on the flip side…
2. There IS such a thing as too much engaged presence. I have seen kids just as negatively impacted by hovering, smothering parenting as I have absent, checked-out parenting. Helicoptering is on the rise because we’re so afraid of messing up #1 but remember, It’s all about balance. Kids need room to try, fail, & learn just as we do.
3. If “preparing your kid for a tough world” involves withholding love, attention, or affection…you’re only preparing them to seek it elsewhere, and they’ll seek it by whatever means necessary, even through substances or acting out. Have high (yet reasonable) expectations & hold them accountable, but never make love & connection something to be earned or revoked.
Krissy Brynn Jackson
4. The very best thing you can do for your kids is work on YOU, not them. To put it plainly, if your life is in chaos, your child’s life is going to be in chaos, too. Kids are little sponges—they absorb what they see & give out what’s modeled, not how they’re told to be. If your child is struggling, your first order of business should be finding help for yourself first, then them. If you don’t want to go to therapy, heal the addiction, face your demons for YOU, fine; but it’s your responsibility to do it for your child(ren).
5. Aim for a “screen-door” relationship with your kids—not a solid, closed-door or a completely open door.
Solid door relationships are ones in which there’s no openness; boundaries are so solid that the parents feel unapproachable or kids are scared to share their vulnerable moments and have real conversations. Open door parents let everything and anything fly and are more concerned with being friends than parents. They often share too much. Boundaries are way too loose or nonexistent, and this gives the child(ren) feelings of anxiety, as they need some limits in order to feel safe & cared for.
Screen-door families share and are open, but not too much. The parent(s) check on their child’s progress but don’t try to control and aren’t overly-involved. They openly vocalize how proud they are of their children & how much they love them, but they also expect much from them—including respect. It’s as if I watch these kids play out life on their own high wire, but with a safety net underneath them, so that they can take pride in their accomplishments and learn from failures, yet know they’re safe. It’s a beautiful thing.
6. I’m here to tell you when it comes down to it, money doesn’t make much difference one way or the other when it comes to raising a great kid. I’ve seen dysfunctional families that are poor and dysfunctional families that are wealthy. I’ve seen really great kids come from families that are quite well-off and outstanding kids who come from near-poverty. Great values can be instilled in any economic setting. As long as you’re rich in love & gratitude, your kids will be fine.
7. Embrace who your kids are, even if you don’t get it. The most common theme that would emerge when hearing people’s family of origin stories was some variation of “they didn’t see me,” “they didn’t get me.” We all have dreams for our children—we can certainly make suggestions and help set goals for them, but on a fundamental level, we have let go of who we envisioned they would be and accept the truth of who they are.
8. Your child’s mental, social, and emotional health should always trump grades. Straight A’s don’t matter if your child can’t interact properly with others or is in emotional pain. If you have to make the choice between tutoring and therapy, always choose therapy. The improvement in grades will come when his/her needs are met.
9. Don’t underestimate the power of technology addiction. I’ve seen parents throw in the towel because they won’t win the fight for time with their kids against the phone/computer, but letting an addiction win when it’s harming your child is just another form of neglect—more insidious because it’s less ugly & more convenient than other forms. Again, I’m not talking about NEVER allowing it (balance) but you know your child & what they can handle. You’ll know what’s right, but pay attention. And remember, it’s never too late to get help.
10. And finally number 10, a simple yet profound truth—if you’re reading this worried whether you’re doing it right…you’re probably doing it right.