In a recent interview, I was asked to share top advice I believe helps children feel secure with their parents. If you had been asked, what might you have said?
I answered that the way parents respond to children’s dreams is key. I want children of all ages to dream. I want them to dream big and to confidently share their dreams, goals, and ideas with their parents. I want parents to be totally available and faithfully present to hear their children’s dreams. Then, I want them to think carefully about their response.
When we think a dream might not be a good fit for a child, we can’t quickly shoot it down. They won’t feel heard or loved. To children, this feels like disrespect and can make them feel dismissed. Quick negative responses sure don’t make children feel safe.
If we think a dream is unrealistic, we can begin a conversation about the dream—not an interrogation. Listening longer is key. We can ask children to tell us more about their thoughts without directing their thoughts through a specific question. Then we can ask how they came up with their idea and maybe ask a few questions about details. Ideally, we avoid asking things like this with a negative tone of voice: “What makes you think you can do that?”
If we see holes in our children’s logic or maybe understand that they lack some skills to make reaching their dream easy or even possible, we can point that out in such a way that they are encouraged to pursue the new skills rather than giving up on their dream. If a child tells us she wants to be a vet after visiting the zoo this summer, we can point out that she will need to take science seriously next year. We don’t need to say, “That’s not a good idea since you don’t care about science.”
If a child wants to pursue something with math for her career, perhaps you can invite several people over for dinner who have careers using math skills. Conversations can lead to questions she will want to answer. If a child wants to teach, see if he can assist a Sunday school teacher over the summer. When I was a junior in high school, that’s actually how I started pursuing my dream to teach young children. I remember Mrs. Landis well, and that was obviously many years ago. She was an important mentor and encourager.
We can help children continue their dreams by showing them how to succeed. If we know a dream isn’t realistic, we can redirect their thoughts to something new and maybe related without crushing their spirits. Listen closely for your kids’ dreams as the school year ends, and the summer is your opportunity.
Dr. Kathy Koch is the founder of Celebrate Kids, Inc., where she has influenced thousands of parents, teachers, and children with her encouraging messages. To read more about how you can encourage and connect with your kids, visit Celebrate Kids.