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Get These 3 Things Right to Empower Your Kids for Life

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

5 years ago, my family was on a downward spiral. My kids were miserable, our relationships were strained, and I found it impossible to just slow down and connect. Today, my kids are thriving, my relationships are rich, and not only can I slow down, I genuinely love how I spend my time.

Today, I’m going to share the three most important things I learned about creating amazing outcomes for yourself and your kids.

It’s deceptively simple:

  1. Love your life.

  2. Understand psychological well-being.

  3. Master your mind.

Let’s dive in.

1. Love your life

"The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents." –Carl Jung

I’m sure you’ve heard that kids learn more from watching YOU than anything you will ever tell them or try to teach them.

Kids learn experientially through all of their senses, absorbing every aspect of their environment. At every stage of development, kids are learning how to do life by watching everyone around them, especially you.

In fact, in the earliest years of life, your child CANNOT distinguish between you and themselves. If you want your child to feel empowered, confident, free, and happy, the most effective way to do that, is for you to feel that way first.

When a parent is unhappy, or sacrificing their own well-being out of ‘duty’ or fear, children learn those patterns automatically, and they feel it, even when we put on our game face. Worse, parents can end up pushing their children, sometimes without realizing it, to make choices that are truer to the parent’s desires than to the child’s, which is the exact opposite of empowering.

So what does it mean to ‘love your life’? As a quick check, ask yourself,

  • Do you regularly choose your own needs and preferences over those of others?

  • Do you pursue your dreams and desires?

  • Do you have fun with your partner and kids?

  • Do you love how you spend your time?

If you struggled to answer ‘yes’ to any or all of these questions, you are not alone. In future videos, I will talk more about how to turn it all around.

2. Understand you and your child’s psychological needs

“A life of Optimal Happiness is one where you have the freedom to do what you love and love what you do.” –Richard Ryan

Over the past 60 years, thousands of researchers have been studying the psychological well-being, motivation, and outcomes of countless people across cultures, religions, age groups, and contexts ranging from academics, work performance, athletic performance, and long-term relationships, always with consistent results.

The study is called Self Determination Theory and what it comes down to, is the ability to make your own choices and control your own life. It is broken down into three fundamental needs: connection, autonomy, and mastery.

What’s important to understand is that ALL of these needs are essential. When we have to sacrifice one to get the other, it tends to create poor outcomes, such as anxiety, and depression. Unfortunately, many parenting and social norms actively undermine many of these needs, and children are frequently forced to sacrifice one need to get the other. I have other videos that go deeper on all of these, but for today I’ll talk a bit about each of these:

1. Connection In short, we need people. We need to love and feel loved.

When we get this adequately as children, it becomes a part of us and this self-connection can sustain us through the ups and downs of relationship dynamics. If we don’t get this securely as children, it can affect us for the rest of our lives—and in seeking that connection, we may end up sacrificing what’s good for us, or we may have an outsized fear of loss in our relationships leading to reactive or even destructive behaviors.

2. Autonomy. Autonomy is the experience of being the cause of the outcomes in our own lives (versus being at the effect of others). It means we are the author of our own story. This is the one I see parents struggle with most. And it’s because it’s the most undermined need in our current culture. Autonomy gives us agency, independence, and freedom. What it looks like in action changes at different stages of development. For example, in a toddler it looks like NOT sharing toys, going for the biggest cookie. As parents, we need to understand what autonomy means and how to parent differently than our own parents or even our peers might expect us to.

3. Mastery. This is the experience of getting better and better at something as well as being really good at something we worked hard to learn. While sometimes, this process can be uncomfortable, everytime we rescue our kids from something painful or save them from struggle, we are sending them a message that they are not capable and robbing them of the opportunity to build mastery in themselves. This is also the reason we tend to be happier when we are learning something new or making progress as we work toward a goal.

3. Master your mind

Our life is shaped by our mind. We become what we think. -The Buddha (from the Dhammapada)

Why is it we know something is bad for us but we do it anyway? Why is it we know what a good habit looks like but we still don’t practice it? From sugar to exercise to addiction to money, what we know and what we do are NOT the same.

The answer is NOT to meditate harder, breathe deeper, or even talk about your problems more. These are all practices of awareness and consciousness, which have their place.

But when we talk about emotions, reactions, and the majority of our behaviors, we need to understand the UNCONSCIOUS mind.

In fact, it’s estimated that only 5 -20% of what we do is conscious. That means, upwards of 95% of EVERYTHING we do, is driven by the unconscious mind. So while the job of the conscious mind is to analyze, evaluate and choose, the job of the ‘unconscious’ mind is to go and get it. That’s why we say the conscious mind is the goal-setter and the unconscious mind is the goal-getter.

As a parent, you should also be aware that a child’s ‘conscious’ mind is largely nonexistent until around the age of 7. That means that everything your children see, hear, feel and experience goes straight into their unconscious minds unfiltered.

This is the time that you learned how to do the emotional and behavioral patterns the adults around you were doing. That doesn’t mean you DO them all now, but you do know HOW to do them.

What this means is that your child is learning from their environment. They are learning HOW to do life. And the more confidence, joy, and love you bring, the more they learn how to do THAT.

In other words, investing in our own well-being and creating a positive vibe in your home is probably the greatest gift you could possibly give your child.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll dive deeper into these topics.

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This is an update to the first version of this article published originally on SFBAM website.

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