Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 15, 2013

Mental Wellness: Preserve awe throughout life

Local columnist

— Toddlers are amazing. My daughter explores the nuances of the word “no” with unrelenting talent. At times, it can be overwhelming, but it is her way of diving into the adventure and exploration of independence.

The other day I turned on the water to feed the plants, and water squirted out of the sprayer. She was amazed and her mouth was wide open with awe. A sense of wonder overtook her, over a sprayer for my tomato plants!

How do we as parents preserve the awe and wonder and excitement of childhood, while also providing structure and boundaries and consistency?

Become a child

When I make my daughter laugh, it is a feeling unlike another.

I have found that fart noises and silly sounds are a sure way to make my toddler daughter laugh.

We can learn a lot about the simplicity of life through the eyes of a child. Sometimes life needs a little bit more of the silliness that childhood allows.

When we seek to join our kids in their childhood experiences, it builds connection, love, and feelings of mutual affection.

Become an adult

With that said, there are a lot of adult children. There are guys that play video games more than they play with their kids, or couples that take on debt like it’s going to be illegal. Sometimes we have to step back and ask, “What is the adult thing to do?” Having a child often requires making tough decisions that are not fun.

When we as parents choose to grow up, we create a model for our children. We may sacrifice and choose what is un-fun to set the example of adulthood while also balancing that with allowing the inspiration of childhood to join in this journey.

Become a guide

Being a guide or teacher to our children is very different from being a jail warden. A guide helps to make clear the path through education, example, and teaching. As parents we can find the balance of boundaries and awe by helping our kids to see how their decisions go beyond themselves.

Instead of just seeking negative and positive consequences, we will seek to link behavior to natural outcomes. We will find moments in our lives to point out how life changes based on our decisions. With our toddlers, we will create environments of love, boundaries, and respect. With tweens we will respect their unique stages of needing to have feelings of independence and guidance. For our teens we will find ways to move them more towards adulthood and decisions that reflect our worldview.

The stages of childhood demand that we find the balance between joining our children, becoming an adult, and seeking to be guides. In doing so, we will preserve the awe that comes from seeing sprayers shoot water while also preparing them for adulthood.

Joseph R. Sanok is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. He just published “The Ten-Minute Toddler Turnaround” available on Amazon. He loves being a dad!