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From what they want packed in their lunchbox to how often they want to feed to which lovey makes bedtime even possible, kids are unique. No two are alike, regardless of whether they come from the same genetic code or are raised within the same family culture. Mothering their individuality can be tricky, but it is an important way to honor who they are and validate their special place in the family. Don’t know where to start? Practice the following five habits and you’re off to a good start.

Allow children to be themselves.

It’s eight o’clock on a summer’s morning and already, my kitchen looks like an explosion of craft paper, scissors and tape. Art paraphernalia covers every usable cooking and eating surface.  I personally do not prioritize crafting over eating, but apparently my six year old does. One way we can show children love is to allow them to be themselves, even when it seems inconvenient.  Take a minute to praise their special gift or talent. “I love to watch you be creative!  Show me what you made.”  Then offer a compromise that values their interests as well as your to-do list. “You can craft for five more minutes and then it’s time to clean up so we can have breakfast!”

Allow children to dream.   

Childhood is the place of dreams and you never know what dreams a child will think of next.  Recently, we decorated our six year old’s room into what we thought would be a beautiful space any young girl would love.  When I showed her the room, she just put her head down and asked, “But where are the dinosaurs?”  She had been dreaming of a Jurassic jungle for her bedroom, while I had dreamed up a princess paradise. Oops.

Show interest in your child’s interest so that it becomes something you both share.  Now, I help my daughter check out dinosaur books from the library. When we go on vacation as a family, we look up what dinosaur museums or parks they have in the area and schedule time to go.  When we allow our children to dream and pursue their interests, they grow up to be adults who know how to dream and pursue their passions.

Provide children with a variety of activities and experiences.

Growing up, my father taught classes on religion while my mother attended art club and book club.  They were both avid readers and loved gardening.  My mom would tell me all about the characters in the books she was reading and my father would walk with me in his garden and tell me the right way to grow tomatoes. My mother let me taste test her delicious meals and desserts for events she hosted.  I always felt welcomed into their varied pursuits, and the variety helped me discern my own passions. Present a vibrant offering of experiences and watch your child’s creative expression flourish.

Show children how to work and help others.

My eighteen-month-old twins light up with enthusiasm whenever I pull out the vacuum; they want to vacuum like mommy. If I try to load the dishwasher, they want to crawl in. It can be frustrating when it feels like they are trying to make my job more difficult. But really, they just want to help. Children learn how to work hard when they see their parents and mentors work hard, but they also need an opportunity to feel useful to someone else, especially someone they love.  I love to see my twins giggle and smile up at me when the three of us try to maneuver the vacuum together.

Give children age-appropriate responsibilities in the home and then praise them for a job well done.  Utilize a sticker chart for daily chores as well as bonus acts of kindness. Small rewards add to the fun of helping, and communicate the value of learning to work in a visual and understandable way.

Praise and give children encouragement.

Verbal praise and encouragement will stay with your child throughout their lifetime.  They will rely on it during challenging times in their lives.  Continue to praise your children even after they have left home.  Criticism can rip through relationships like a freight train of unwanted baggage. Children will make mistakes.  We all make mistakes.  My dad often told me to not get discouraged, but to think of each day as practice.  He told me he didn’t judge me based on my mistakes but rather on my potential. Looking back as an adult, I feel that the realization of many of my dreams happened because my parents emphasized encouraging my potential rather than criticizing my faults. We all have trouble seeing the unique goodness in ourselves. It’s a powerful experience to hear a loved one call out our strengths.

Discover more Alicia Walters through her book, Motherhood, or The Widening Gap Between Showers