- Written by Lynn U. Nichols Lynn U. Nichols
A community of caring adults help kids become well-rounded and resilient
We’ve all heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child, but how many of us set out to build one for our kids? As a parent, you are your child’s number one support system, yet having a variety of caring adults for your child to turn to at different times for different needs helps them become self-sufficient and well-rounded. To create a village, you’ll have to let other adults occasionally take the reigns—something not all parents want to give up. Here’s why you should.
Having a village builds resiliency
“As parents, as much as we’d like to, we can’t be there all of the time for our kids. That’s okay, because they learn resiliency when they reach out to others to get the help they need,” says Kristen Glenn, parent educator with The Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary resiliency means “having the ability to recover from or adjust easily to change or misfortune. To be flexible, supple.” Whether it is as simple as breaking their phone or as hard as losing a good friend, life continually offers challenges to our kids.
While it’s hard to watch your preteen or teen struggle, take comfort in knowing she is gaining resiliency. Her happiness depends on how well she deals with these bumps and bruises, not whether or not they exist. Kids who ask for help to get through challenges gain confidence that they can rely on themselves, and others, to overcome obstacles and succeed.
Exploring whom your teen can contact when they get into a tough spot gives them an immediate solution to their problem, and a way to turn things around. Sit down with your teen and have him identify a few adults he trusts to turn to when he needs an outside perspective, extra help with a specific task, or somewhere to simply hang and relax. Maybe it’s a past or present teacher, a coach, the school counselor, an aunt, uncle or the mom of a best friend. Once he has those people in his back pocket—or on speed dial –he’ll know where to turn.
Get formal when extra help is needed
Having an all-encompassing team that wraps around teens in challenging times keeps them on a positive track. Not sure who to suggest? Consider who is significant in your teen’s life. Will they focus on the positives not the problems? Will they guide rather than direct? Will they take time and listen?
If your preteen or teen is struggling, you can formalize his village by helping him not only identify individuals to be a part of his support team, but formally asking them to play a supporting role. If it’s hard for your teen to ask, it’s okay to get involved. It is important to let your teen pick his village, but you can gently veto if it’s someone you are not comfortable with. Finding a few key individuals who will uphold your values and respond in a way that supports both of you is ideal.
A support team member may not offer just words. Rather, they might offer a reprieve for your teen to perform a coping activity that will help her calm down and re-align. This might be taking 20 minutes to draw in the counselor’s office or write in a journal while sitting in class. Or, maybe a coach will open the gym and allow your teen to lift weights to work through anger, or an uncle might invite her over after school to play music together. Such strategies help avoid a breakdown or incident.
What other adults bring to the table
Encouraging healthy relationships with other adults exposes your kids to another way of seeing the world. Pre-teens and teens are at an age when they really notice that people are all unique and that families operate differently. This expands their minds and makes them more comfortable with people and tolerant of differences.
There’s also value in getting to be someone different than who they are when they are with you. As parents, we try not to define our kids, but sometimes it happens, or they define themselves within the family. Seeing themselves through some else’s eyes lets them explore different ways of being in the world—trying on different confidences and personality traits. It also helps them form an opinion about themselves that’s outside of their relationship with you.
Let go of always being number one
Glenn teaches Girl Talk: A Mother Daughter Workshop in Fort Collins (fcwc.com) and when she asks moms and daughters to put anonymous questions in a box, a common theme of the moms’ questions is, ‘How can I stay her primary support person?’ The truth is you might not always be your teens’ first choice for support.
“Give yourself grace that you won’t always be there to offer support, and that it’s very healthy for teens to seek out support from coaches, aunts, teachers and friends. Research shows parents will remain the top influencers in their children’s lives. Your teen might go elsewhere for day-to-day support, but it’s your caring and your values that will matter most,” Glenn says.
When your teen seeks support from you, listen
Listening seems simple, but it’s not. It requires parents to give teens’ undivided attention and really hear what they have to say. Most parents are often multi-tasking to make it through the day. If you are too busy, say so, but tell your teen when you will have time to talk. A good rule to follow when talking to your teen is to imagine you are listening to a friend. You’d probably hold back interruptions and unwanted advice, opting for open-ended questions instead. Doing the same with your teen establishes trust. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t state your values. Just do so starting with the words “I feel” rather than “you should” and you’ll keep the conversation two-way versus having it turn into a one-way lecture. Mostly your teen simply needs to talk. They don’t need you to find a solution. If they won’t talk to you, suggest they talk to a trusted adult within their village.
“Having other healthy adults in your preteen or teen’s life doesn’t replace you, it’s just an extension of the support you give,” Glenn concludes.