In a group they appear connected to others and seem to be having fun. On their own, they take pride in their talents and achievements.
They are honest, polite, friendly, and reliable. They can admit to making mistakes and apologize. So what is the secret sauce for producing children who exhibit these qualities?
The wisdom of the hundreds of caring supermoms I interviewed boils down to ten points.
1. Know how to listen. Supermoms make themselves available to debrief their kids every day. They don’t multitask, and they don’t interrupt when the child is talking.
These mothers avoid imposing their judgment, instead asking questions to understand better what happened and how the child feels about it. Their questions invite the kid to pick and choose responses for different situations and then to evaluate the results.
2. Let your child make age-appropriate mistakes. Most moms try to be sure their kid doesn’t mess up and especially not in the ways that the mom herself did in childhood. But mistakes are valuable learning experiences and not anything to be ashamed of. Everyone makes some, and there’s no room in this world for perfect people!
Only by dealing with our blunders can we develop confidence in our judgment and our ability to recover from setbacks.
3. Provide structure. Structure means predictability—knowing what is going to happen when and how you are going to get stuff done.
Agendas and lists help us all organize ourselves, manage anxiety, meet deadlines, and set performance goals. They give us a sense of control over our lives and allow us to feel good about ourselves and our work in the world.
4. Offer love, respect, and encouragement. Whether or not your child is misbehaving, keep those hugs and kisses coming. Respect is a two-way street: if you want your child to listen up and give you privacy, you need to do the same.
Take a can-do attitude, appreciate good effort, and show up for the game or performance. Remember that your kid loves vanilla ice cream and despises broccoli. Honor your child’s preferences, be tolerant, and use your sense of humor to defuse the tense moments.
5. Model your values. Whether you approve or not, your child will notice and learn from your behavior. When you have made a mistake, acknowledge it and apologize. In this way you show your child how to act responsibly.
Also honor your negative feelings appropriately: no yelling, no insults or accusations, and no destruction. Don’t beat up on yourself either. Make it a point to say exactly how you’re feeling and why, adding a request for something to happen differently in the future.
By doing these things, as well as in your exercise and eating habits, you show your child how you take care of yourself.
6. Give rewards rather than punishment. Punishment breeds anger and resentment. We all want more than anything else to please the people who are important to us. Compliments and appreciation make us hungry for more, so reward the behaviors you like.
Praise the deed, not the child. If you say “I really like the way you did your homework,” you’re paying a compliment without labeling the kid in a way that creates anxiety. In contrast, if you say, “You are so smart!” the kid may wonder how you will respond when you discover that he or she is not smart after all.
7. Offer guidance in problem solving rather than a blueprint. Let your child take on age-appropriate challenges. Don’t jump in with answers to questions your kid is ready to tackle alone.
Be less concerned with providing the right answer than with showing your child how to find it and especially how to develop confidence, trust his or her own judgment, and decide when a risk is worth taking. It’s particularly important to let the kid take the lead in identifying talents and interests to pursue.
8. Teach relationship skills. Kids don’t need to learn how to have fun. They do need to learn the tough stuff, such as how to voice anger, how to manage stress and anxiety, how to handle failure and loss, and how to set limits and observe those set by others.
The most important skills probably have to do with recognizing the need for boundaries, knowing how to listen even when you don’t agree, being willing to voice and hear feelings, and being able to negotiate win-win solutions to conflict.
9. Cultivate empathy, compassion, and self-love. Supermoms encourage their kids to put themselves in other people’s shoes. They do this by inviting their offspring to remember their own experiences when they see other people struggling.
The mothers also model and teach forgiveness, particularly for oneself. We must be able to like and accept ourselves if we are to treat others with respect. Good apologies require a heartfelt desire to preserve the underlying relationship.
10. Take the long view. The best mothers don’t micromanage. When they feel anxious about trivial things their kids are doing, these moms detach and find ways to calm themselves. They separate the behavioral mountains from the molehills by asking themselves: in twenty years, who will know the difference?
Above all, these parents draw on their own personal storehouse of memories to recall how it felt to be young, powerless, constantly learning, and largely at the mercy of adult authority figures. They help their offspring have adventures, success, strong relationships, and fun.