Modeling the behaviors you want your child to develop is the best way to raise a happy, well-adjusted adult.
"So much of what we do as parents creates our children's understanding of normal," says marriage and family therapist Susan Stiffelman, author of "Parenting With Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids" (An Eckhart Tolle Edition) and "Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected." "I always say, 'We are not raising children. We are raising adults.'"
Here are things Stiffelman says all parents should let their children see them do.
"A lot of children think that crying means they are a baby, or weak or deficient in some way, or defective, that they should be able to override feelings of loss and sadness," Stiffelman says. "When these feelings do come up, then they deal with it in a non-healthy way. Human beings are feeling machines. We feel, and when we show or demonstrate that to our children, when we live in front of our children in a way that underscores that truth, then they become at ease with sadness, which is a very, very human emotion."
"Only by seeing that their parents have struggled will they understand that that's a natural part of life—and that when we face our struggles, when we try to work around them, we are demonstrating resilience, which is a hugely important quality to help children," Stiffelman says. "Let your kids see you struggle and how you handle it, how you get through it, how you rest, or you ask for help."
Kiss your partner
"Some marriages, when kids come along, become partnerships—and they should be—but if we want to model what it is like to love and be loved in a romantic way, then we have to let our kids see what that looks like," Stiffelman says. "That in the midst of making dinner and shuttling kids, figuring out who is going to drive carpool and all that, that there is affection and warmth between mommy and daddy"
"It sets an expectation for this is how your day looks, that you not only take care of the matters of your mind, but also you do maintenance for your body," Stiffelman says. "If we can help our kids feel that it's abnormal or weird to not exercise, to not keep the body moving, then we at least nudge them in the direction of making that a lifelong habit."
Plan your budget
"A lot of parents want to shield their children from money issues, and I'm fine with that, especially if there are problems, but I do think that it's important that parents live within their means and let their kids learn what it is to have an amount of money that you can spend," Stiffelman says. "Start to talk about how much things cost, how much is your rent, how much is your car payment, so that they aren't flopped into adulthood after high school or college unprepared."
"When children see their parents volunteer, it becomes part of life that we give back, that we give our time, not just write a check," Stiffelman says. "It doesn't necessarily mean signing up to help for a weekend marathon, but it could. It might be helping an elderly neighbor next door, walking their dog when she is not feeling well. It restores a sense of balance, and it also is one of the most effective ways for children to feel that they are meaningful and that they matter when they can improve or uplift someone else—not just mommy or daddy."
"Learning is a lifelong pursuit and an essential one, especially if you want to get pragmatic about it. This is a time when our kids are probably going to change careers many times in one life, so they need to have the comfort and the agility to learn new things," Stiffelman says. "The best way to position them to get comfortable with that is to see us doing it. Learn a new instrument, take an online class about something you've always wanted to know about, or just read. Kids who see parents read tend to read more."
"It's important that your kids see you living and engaging in the 3D world in interesting ways, ways that foster that part of you that is more the right brain by expressing yourself artistically and creatively in some small way," Stiffelman says. "Play the piano, draw, sketch, write, cook, listen to music. It doesn't have to be that you're good at it in a conventional sense. It's not about accomplishing something or checking it off your list, it's just for the sake of art."
Be kind to yourself
"Parents are the hardest on themselves. They are just brutal, reviewing at the end of the day everything that went wrong," Stiffelman says. "'I hate my body,' 'I cannot believe how fat I've gotten,' 'I said the stupidest thing today' are all violent statements directed to ourselves, and our children will, in a hot minute, embrace and mimic those behaviors if they think that's how grownups talk about themselves."
"Children should see their parents being kind to themselves," Stiffelman continues. "Learn how to speak nicely about yourself. They should see their parents acknowledge what's going well, what they are grateful for. It's essential that parents really model for their children self love, self care and self kindness."