By Ella Miller

When I think of childhood memories, what I recall most are the life-long lessons that my parents and other family members lovingly took the time to teach me.

I recall gathering around the table at Christmastime making salt dough ornaments with the family to send the message that handmade items, crafted with love and attention, are more significant than store-bought. I remember how my father took me to watch world-renowned

pianists play in concert halls as his conscious effort to keep me cultured and connected to music. I think back to all the times my mother drove me to pottery class each week — sacrificing her Saturday afternoon to do it — so I could experience art hands-on and explore my inner creativity. I have vivid memories of my grandmother showing me how to sew buttons on a shirt “the right way” so that I could become a more self-reliant adult.

So many moments, so consciously chosen by the people who love me, enacted with the hope that they would have a positive impact on my life. The goal was a virtuous one — to make sure I grew up to be a happy, competent, and well-rounded adult.

Now that I have children of my own, I feel honored to be given the role of “guiding light” and also greatly humbled by the immense responsibility that comes with it. As any parent knows, the task of raising kids goes FAR BEYOND just making sure they are clothed, fed, and schooled.

We are preparing our kids to become confident, well-balanced, capable, and contributing members of society. We are shaping their young minds, hearts and attitudes that, with positive input and guidance, will result in happy teens... then fulfilled adults... who will go on to shine their own light to make a difference in this world.

I asked myself what experiences can parents give children that will make a meaningful impact upon their lives? After thinking deeply about this question for quite some time, I came up with this list. I hope you find it as inspiring as I do:


1. Engagement in Art. When we create, we are allowing our mind to invent and play. Children at play are solving problems, experimenting, thinking and learning. Enabling your child to engage in art when they are small — rolling up their sleeves and creating something out of their very own imagination — is especially good for their cognitive development. As they get older, art continues to build their confidence and encourages them to freely express themselves.

2. Trying New Things. Growth happens when we are exposed to new and different scenarios. And the world is filled with experiences waiting to be tried! Reinforce to your children that stepping out of their comfort zone is a good thing. This could be as simple as encouraging them to taste new foods, explore local destinations with you, or try playing a musical instrument. It could mean motivating them to join a new school group or take a fun, online class. Every time your child does something new, it expands their horizons so they can be knowledgeable beyond book learning.

3. The Value of Compassion. Being an empathetic human being with an attitude toward others of trying to understanding what they are experiencing — is thought to be one of the greatest human virtues. By teaching your child to feel sympathy for others, they can learn to bring comfort to those around them. Children are never too young to learn human kindness. A positive way to build a child’s sense of compassion is to involve them in charitable giving and helping others. That could mean your child donating some of their unused toys to those who don’t have any. They could make cards or drawings for seniors and distribute them in person among folks in Senior Living Facilities. Or they could help you volunteer at a local soup kitchen. They can participate in Join Hands Day to clean up and beautify your community. Whether children are doing the compassionate action themselves or following your lead as their role model, compassion plays a key role in helping children become kind, caring, positive people.

4. Supporting Your Child’s Curiosity. Children are naturally curious. Give them opportunities to see, touch, taste, smell and hear new things. Encourage them to discover, and explore the world around them. This can be as simple as a visit to a pet store to see all of the different animals, what they eat, and their different habitats. It can be a trip to a beach or river where water, sand, and shells offer a bounty of beauty and interactions. Or how about a walk in a park to marvel as insects, varieties of flowers and trees, and unique rocks. When children ask a lot of questions (I know mine do), take the time to answers them; don’t shut them down. It’s part of their inquisitive nature and will encourage them to open their mind to new, exciting thoughts and possibilities.

5. Structure and Guidance. Children need structure and guidance around what “proper behavior” they should be exhibiting. Children don’t inherently “know better,” so it’s up to us as parents to reinforce what’s right and wrong in a way that is supportive and encouraging. Also, young kids’ minds are not developed enough to weigh out the consequences of their actions. You can be their beacon, guiding them on how to behave in a way that will achieve positive results in life. Discipline should be consistent and meaningful, not demeaning or humiliating.

6. "Teaching Moments" and Forgiveness. Children make mistakes. Trial and error is part of the learning process. Typically, parents yell when they are angered by their children’s behavior. Technically, this is a loss of control on the parent’s part. Since children mimic what their parents do, this leads to youngsters yelling at their siblings, friends or parents whenever they become upset. Instead of yelling at your child, work with your child to improve their behavior. We all make mistakes. Turn your child’s mistake into a teaching moment by pointing out what they did incorrectly, the problem their actions caused, and what they could have done differently. This will teach them better options. Then, let your child know you forgive them. Make it very clear that they are not a bad boy or bad girl, they just made a bad decision and next time they will have the chance to make a better decision.

NOTE: I realize every child is different; This approach is based on my own experiences where I switched from yelling to guiding/teaching and it yielded better, more positive results.

7. A Positive Outlook. Help your children find the good in what they experience around them. Teach them to see the silver lining in everyday situations. Seeing life through optimistic eyes will help your child develop a positive and hopeful outlook that will serve them well throughout life’s journey. It will also help them to be popular in their social circle when they grow up.

8. Building Self-Esteem. Self-esteem is the foundation for how our children feel about themselves. It’s only natural for children to crave approval from their parents. They want us to be proud of them. Every child’s self-esteem is based upon how their parents react to them. Our physical and verbal cues show them how we feel! Whether we’re applauding their sports abilities or musical talents, or proudly cheering them on when they learn to ride a bike, memorize a song, or master math problems, parents play a MAJOR role in building kids’ self-confidence. Choosing encouraging words and engaging in actions that lift your child up versus tearing them down makes a real difference in your child’s self-esteem, now and in their future.

9. Promoting Fun. From about the age of 6, our children have to follow a morning routine, head off to school, tackle homework, keep their rooms tidy, help with chores around the house, etc. It can begin to feel like life is more work than play rather than a healthy balance of both. As parents, we must remember that fun helps kids blow off steam and de-stress. For younger kids, this can mean dancing, singing, and playing make-believe. For older kids, this can mean encouraging them to call their friends, busting out a board game and sparking some playful competition, jumping on a backyard trampoline or letting them make lots of noise (my 11-year-old loves banging on bongo drums).

From personal experience, when my son is stressed out from a long school day and still has hours of homework ahead, I tell him to stop what he’s doing and go have a little bit of fun before jumping into his homework. He is then able to tackle his homework with a fresh mind and fervor. In the end, promoting fun will help your children develop into adults that have a solid work ethic but also know how to let loose when it’s time!

10. Self-Expression. Allowing children to share who they are and what they enjoy is important to the development of their own personality. Perhaps you can allow your child to decorate an area of their bedroom their way. Or have an art wall that your child can fill up with whatever they create and hang it for all to see. By encouraging your children to feel free to express themselves, you will reinforce the concept that their tastes, values and ideas matter. Then they will feel proud to share their favorite things and personal style with you.

In the end, parents share a common vision: we all want to see our kids thrive, flourish, and be successful at life. It’s never too early to start creating positive experiences that will prepare your child to become a well-rounded individual that can tackle each day with confidence at any age!

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