Little children are pliable, affectionate, playful and so much more — it’s impossible to describe them. Your children make your heart overflow in ways unspeakable — most of the time. Only, kids don’t stay little for long. Soon enough they challenge your authority and make choices based upon what someone besides you suggested in order to break away from you. That’s the way it goes. But when your child’s ready to break away, will he be able to draw on a strong inner foundation that you carefully instilled so he makes good decisions? As your little one grows into a big kid, plant a solid foundation in him — a hopefulness that will carry him through. Here are ways to nurture that along.

Experiments have shown that children who receive encouragement and positive feedback are more likely to succeed in tasks and adapt to difficult circumstances better and more readily than other children who receive negative feedback or no encouragement.

When things go awry with growing kids, the tendency is to focus on the child’s weakness and problem. But according to the book The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There From Here by the late C.R. Snyder (Free Press), who specialized in positive psychology, parents should be less occupied with repairing damage and more occupied with their strengths in order to create resiliency.

1) TEND TO HIM REGULARLY ... LIKE A GARDEN.

Like a growing garden, children need constant pruning and fertilizing and training to grow up instead of down — to reach for blue skies instead of crawling along the ground. The worst thing you can do for your child is to just ignore him and allow nature to take its course, says Snyder. Children need their parents’ smile and approval. They need to be pointed in the right direction day after day.

2) SET A GOOD EXAMPLE.

Kids come to understand the hearts of their parents and are influenced by what their parents do over things their parents say. Bad examples extend to every area of your child’s life. For example: When parents fight. Some fight in front of the kids, others do it behind a bedroom door. What’s important is not the fighting, Snyder says, but how the fighting is resolved, and what you show the children. Kids are able to “read” their parents including bitterness and hate, love and understanding. If you want your child to resolve discourse lovingly, you must resolve discourse lovingly. If you criticize others, he will criticize others. If you’re careless with money, if you’re lazy and irresponsible, this is what you will form in him. Give him a sense of hopefulness by clearly being what you want him to be and he will thank you for it — probably later rather than sooner. Hopefulness Quote

3) EXPRESS PLEASURE WITH HIM REGULARLY.

This is a biggie. Some parents relate displeasure to their kids to great negative effect. This comes out in criticizing and somehow talking down to them, and many parents are unaware that they do it. Your child’s undesirable behavior provokes your look of displeasure and then your look of displeasure provokes his bad attitude and then more bad behavior. It can be a vicious cycle. He will want to please you when he knows you find pleasure in his presence. You must become the source of his inner joy if you want him to give up on the rebellion that comes from not pleasing you enough, Snyder says. Encourage, encourage, encourage. Hug, notice, listen, be interested, be present, repeat, repeat, repeat. And smile at him.

4) ENFORCE BOUNDARIES.

It’s not enough to just love your kids and trust they will turn out all right, Snyder warns. Some parents avoid enforcing boundaries because it’s the path of least resistance; it’s harder to provide limits, but kids need them. If kids came into the world wise and disciplined, you could leave them to their own devices and parenting would be over. Kids simply don’t see the need for self-denial or self-restraint; they do what feels good. You have to train character in kids, i.e., the maturity to choose the good path and to do what ought to be done even if it’s contrary to their desires. If you set boundaries — constrain children to right behaviors — in time, they will develop moral understanding.

5) SIFT HIS SOCIAL CIRCLE.

Simply put: a mother hen should guard her chicks against the foxes and coyotes in order to protect them. Since different parents may not share your values, you need to make sure your child hangs out with friends who are good for him, Snyder says. There are times when your kids will not understand why you say “No” to a play date and times when other parents may be offended. To protect your kids and keep them safe, you will have to teach them how to recognize good vs. questionable people.

6) MAKE HIM ACCOUNTABLE.

Give your child responsibility according to his ability, says Snyder. If he can walk to the laundry room, he can carry his dirty clothes there. Hold him accountable for his responsibilities until he is in fact responsible. Stay involved until he is.  

Spirituality Can Provide Hope to Children

When it comes to spirituality, you DO need to decide what you believe in to be able to foster spirituality in your child — a spirituality that can give him hope in any situation. In addition to your own beliefs, what kind of beliefs do you want your child to have? Introducing spirituality early on gives a child awareness that there is a higher power at work in his life — something he can draw on as he grows. “Kids are going to hear about God all over,” says Marianne Neifert, author of Dr. Mom: A Guide to Baby and Child Care (G.P. Putnam). “If you don’t put your own spin on it, with your own values, they’ll absorb someone else’s,” she adds. Things you can do:
  • Let your child know that prayers are not just for mealtime, but that prayer is a tool for communicating with a higher power any time.
  • Allow your child to question your belief and the beliefs of others without telling him what he should believe.
  • Stress the spiritual side of holidays.
  • Consider joining a church community where your child can be a part of a youth group who explore spirituality together.