What does a television program about building homes have in common with raising happy, resilient, confident children?
I like to use the scaffolding analogy to explain our role as parents in raising confident, resilient children and was delighted when I found Harold Koplewicz (a renowned psychiatrist and president of the Child Mind Institute) had used the same analogy in his recently published book.
Let me explain.
Imagine your child is a building, rising up from the ground. The building rises without a set of architectural drawings, so it is free to become whatever your child chooses it to be. The build isn’t always straightforward. There are twists, turns, changes in direction, and what might start off looking like a Georgian mansion may end up as a sprawling single-storey, open plan modern building filled with glass, and equally stunning.
Our role as parents is to provide the scaffolding, which secures the integrity of the building, and catches any falling masonry.
We do not shape or design the building, we simply respond to its shape and direction.
The build is not to our specification but our child’s. We don’t get to live in it – our child does.
We provide the framework and stability as the building rises. Our scaffolding must not inhibit or alter the build in any way; we support from an appropriate distance so the building is free to rise, to develop, and sprawl out and become what the designer (our child) wants it to be.
We should make sure the build meets safety regulations, so the house is safe to inhabit, and we do this by consistent application of guiding principles, moral, and values.
There are three critical pillars, which in my view we must master first as parents, if we are to raise happy, confident, resilient adults equipped to take on any challenges life throws at them. These are:
Securing Ourselves – if we do not secure ourselves first, then we stand absolutely no chance of being there for our children. I mean this quite genuinely. The scaffolding is there to catch the building, should anything fall off. If we haven’t secured ourselves first as the scaffold, we can’t possibly catch any falling masonry.
So it’s super, super key, and hopefully, I’m slightly preaching to the converted here, that we prioritise our self care.
Remember, self care is not just about our morning routine, although that is really, really key. Self Care is about the language we use with ourselves in our head, about our parenting, about the way that we look, about the person we are, about our friendships, whatever it is, it’s all about that internal dialogue. It’s all of that internal chatter.
If we are racing around overwhelmed, feeling resentful our time isn’t our own, unfulfilled in any aspect of our lives, (and doing nothing about it), or just plain exhausted, and placing our own needs at the bottom of the daily to do list, we simply cannot provide a strong scaffold and the building is in danger of collapsing!!
If we’re going to provide the scaffolding, we have to make sure that we’re secure first.
Our self care is absolutely key.
Draw a new Blueprint – if anyone has ever built a house from scratch, not only do you have the architectural drawings, but you have a blueprint, which has all of the intricate details of the rules and observations of how certain materials will work together. It’s a technical, detailed drawing, which ensures the finished building meets safety regulation standards.
As we scaffold our children’s rising build our blueprint as parents can often be out of date, or jars / conflicts with that of our partners, particularly in these times of rising difficulties with mental health in children, and this is where challenges can occur.
For example, when our child struggles to manage their emotions and we approach their outburst by acknowledging their emotion, and being compassionate, whilst our partner believes this panders and indulges a child who needs firmer boundaries.
Our child’s house build needs one clear blueprint.
Communication between partners is so important when it comes to raising children. This is why the Sunday family meetings are so important. They are opportunities to get back on the same page with the way you parent and how you are both responding to situations. Sunday family meetings are an opportunity to reflect, then tweak and refine.
Lay a solid Foundation – when we lay the foundations, the concrete should be made up of a mixture of emotional availability, positive reinforcement, clear messaging, and consistent rules.
In short, children need to know we are emotionally available to them, always, whilst applying consistent rules.
This combination provides the framework for the building to rise strong. Consistency in the application of your family values, placed within the context of our children’s ever widening world community best prepares them for life when they leave home.
I say this repeatedly; we are only custodians of our children for a period of time.
Our whole purpose as parents is to teach our children our set of family values so they can go off into the world and make good choices, which most of the time they will. However, there will be times they will make some monumentally poor choices, and we need to be there to catch them and not shame them.
We have to just trust that they’re going to make the right choices, for them, because we put all the work into the foundations, scaffolding within the context of emotional availability.
It has never been harder to parent.
In a world of immediate gratification, constant distraction, comparisons, and overwhelming pressure not only on our children but on us too as their parents, it is easy to think others have it all sorted. The stark reality is we are all fumbling in the dark at times. There are days when we feel we have absolutely nailed it as a parent, only to find the next day we feel as though we have walked into a disaster movie!
I, for one, have found the journey of being a parent a bit of a rollercoaster at times. Yet I have always taken comfort by surrounding myself with a network of friends I can be entirely honest with. Whilst my own children are long past the years of tantrums, I am learning each and every day to step back as they now make their own adult choices. Their houses looks completely different to mine, and each others, but they are their homes.
I now have to be content with knowing I can visit any time – and maybe bring with me the odd scatter cushion?????