It Takes a Village: You Don't Have to Parent Alone!

Children don’t come with a manual. There is no “how-to” book of step-by-step success for raising children. Yet, many parents seem to have a belief that they must have all the answers and do it all themselves. This myth has been debunked by research. Researchers from Search Institute have found that—while parental units are indeed “the home team”—parenting doesn’t only happen at home. All children need and benefit from other caring adults being in their lives. Parents need them and so do our kids.

Other caring adults do not serve as a substitute while you take a moment to go to the cleaners or to get a haircut. They serve as vital, active participants in helping shape, support, and nurture your child in a loving community. Trusted, loving adults can help children learn to navigate hurdles, build confidence, and build a sense of self. They can also help create a secure environment of love, faith, and general support.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to bounce ideas and concerns off of someone who isn’t “in” the daily grind every day? To get perspective? To rally assistance and ideas when you are stumped?

Who are the other caring adults in your child’s life? Think about whom you trust. As you identify people, keep in mind your child’s well-being and safety and think about the gifts that each adult can bring to your child (general love and acceptance, listening, patience, teach him how to play ball, etc.) Start with a goal of five people that you want to be a part of your own “home team.” And then ask if they are up for the challenge. Tell these other adults how important they are in your life and in your child’s.

There are many ways for a caring adult to interact with your child, and many ways they can be supportive. Below are some ideas that illustrate what it means to be caring adults in a child’s life. Share them with your team and thank them for caring for your child.

Tips for Being the Caring Adult in a Child’s Life

  • Remember birthdays and important events. Birthdays are important! So are key events: the play, the race, the science fair, graduation. Remember important dates and acknowledge them with a phone call, a card, a posting on Facebook, or pictures.
  • Express awe over creations. Any creation – a picture, a mud pie, a sandcastle, a homemade brownie – is worthy of awe because it was created by a child who spent time working to create something of beauty. Express appreciation, awe, and wonder, and post it (when able) on refrigerators, desks or walls to show them how proud you are of their effort. The display will send a clear message of appreciation.
  • Cheerlead mastery of skills. Mastering a new skill or task is important at any age. It IS an accomplishment. The first step of a toddler, the first sandwich made by a 4 year old, the first time a middle schooler stands up for herself to a bully, the completion of the driver’s ed test – each of these firsts are major steps towards healthy growth and development and aren’t learned overnight. They should be applauded for the accomplishments that they are!

Being a caring adult to children 5 and under

  • Form bonds during extended family or other gatherings. This age is the perfect time to establish loving connections with other children and adults. It helps the child become more socially connected and lets the parents and other caring adults begin to get on the same page regarding boundaries and expressed family values.
  • Go on play dates. Caring adults can step in to take a child to the library for story time or to come over and play with them while you do necessary chores around the house. Generally, short visits are a great way for relationships to form in small doses.

Being a caring adult to children ages 6 to 9

  • Be active together. Take walks (with dogs is even better), ride bikes, run timed races down the street, toss a ball – children are physically learning and growing at this age. It’s a great idea to be physical, meet their developmental needs, and wear them out – in a good way!
  • Keep the play dates; broaden the possibilities. As children get older, a sense of adventure arises and their interests in visits to the park, bouncy rooms, swimming, going to movies, etc. deepens. They want to explore and look forward to special events.
  • Ask about their treasures. By this age, something is being collected – airplanes, legos, dolls, written notes from mom. Express interest in what they collect and share what you collect with them. When appropriate, add to their collections.
  • Reinforce values and boundaries. A gift you can give any parent is to help reinforce core values and home rules when you see them being tested. Reinforce manners – “what do you say? (please, thank you, excuse me)” to help show that manners are universal and good to use with everyone.
  • Be real. Questions, questions, questions! Sometimes that seems to be all that children have! Answer their questions. Be honest when you don’t have an answer or don’t know the answer (or don’t know how to do something). Offer to figure it out together. Model being real and let them know that it’s okay not to know everything.

Being a caring adult to children ages 10 to 15

  • Show up. Nothing says “I care” more than showing up when you can, and asking about it when you can’t by asking for many, many details to show you REALLY are interested.
  • Support their interests. Paying attention to their interests and supporting healthy interests is a great way to say you see them, know they are there, and believe in their interests. Buying materials and art supplies for the budding artists, swapping books with the reader, going together to a museum for the history buff – there are multiple little ways to support their interests, and establishing this bond can carry over many years of continued conversation and exploration together.
  • Be available. Be there to listen, to let them vent, to assure them of your faith in them, to accept them “as is” and to let them have a safe space to spout, work through feelings and issues, and to express new ideas.

Being a caring adult to young people ages 16 to 18

  • Make dates. They’re not babies anymore, but time together is still a valuable influence in their lives (even if their conversation skills seem to disappear for awhile during this age). Make it habit early on to establish traditions, even annual ones, for spending time together. Perhaps it’s a “let’s beat the Black Friday rush by going the Friday before” shopping date, or an annual on-the-lake tubing event, or maybe it’s just a “back to school supply fun run.” Find the activity, event or hobby that can give you the excuse to be together and enjoy.
  • Ask for their expertise and input. Youth at this age are readying to go to college and/or the real world. That’s a big step! You can help them prepare to make many decisions on their own by starting now. Ask them to teach YOU how to do something. Ask for their input on decisions. Ask how they would handle things if they were in your shoes. Show them respect and value their insights.
  • Compliment their contributions. Acknowledge the things they do well. Point out what you admire about them to their parents and family members (Bonus: Let them overhear your compliments without letting them know that you know they are listening).

  • Trust them with something.

More Resources:

1. Supporting Your Child with a Mentor