There were two items I can remember desperately wanting in my childhood, Guess jeans and a Cabbage Patch Kid. Like, I just had to have them. All the “cool” girls had Guess jeans and my seven year old mind believed if I had them I too would be cool and accepted. As for the Cabbage Patch Kid, the marketers did a great job and well every girl my age just had to have one.
I never did get those Guess jeans and my mother will tell you I only got the Cabbage Patch Kid because she worked next door to a toy store and the owner put one aside for me. She could have sold that Cabbage Patch Kid for five times its actual cost but making sure I had one was more important to her that the money.
For parents today marketing to kids seems to be on steroids, creating toxicity in our culture. There is less of that genuine community connectedness that was shared by the toy store owner with my mom. As Gabor Maté says in his new book The Myth of Normal, to be a good parent today, you have to resist the culture instead of having a culture support you.
Corporations are spending billions on very strategic messaging that is subtle and corrosive and is designed to play on their emotional vulnerability of kids, spreading messages like happiness is found through things (rather than people and relationships), having a specific brand is the criteria of worth and identity and that in order to be cool and accepted you must have certain products.
As parents we need to push back against these messages and trends. Find ways to deeply connect with our kids, helping them to continue to develop, strengthen and nurture their ability to find emotional safety with you and other trusted adults in their lives. We must provide an environment that creates emotional safety for them allowing them to move more confidently toward their full potential.
As you head into this holiday season remember creating emotional safety and connection are the most powerful gifts you can give your kids espeically in childhood. It doesn’t come wrapped up shiny paper with a beautiful bow but it will last them way longer than pair of Guess jeans or the latest must have toy.
When creating an emotionally safe environment for your kid make sure to:
• Validate and empathize with them. Kid problems can seem small compared to some adult problems, but kids problems feel BIG to kids, don’t minimize this.
• Be available (we could all use less phone time) and open to talk about anything they want or need to, even if its boring or makes you uncomfortable, give them a safe container to share.
• Love them unconditionally, this is different than giving unconditional approval.
• Be aware of your own triggers. This is a BIG one. We are all a work in progress but being conscious and thoughtful about how and WHY we are reacting is one of the biggest gift to them and to you.
You are awesome and your kid is so lucky to have YOU as their parent.