How would you describe your child’s spirit?

You might find that a tough question to answer. What do we mean by “spirit,” really?

I define spirit as the type of energy we bring: whether to a room, a conversation, our work, a musical instrument, or other activity.

Perhaps you see your child as fiery, bold, nimble, or charismatic. Or perhaps your child’s teacher or a relative has described your child as “a leader,” “a natural peacemaker,” or “a great thinker.” Think about the ways in which your child shows up in the world and their unique characteristics and you might have a good sense of their spirit.

In my work observing children, I often tell parents that I’m trying to get a “snapshot” of their child in order to understand the behaviors they are seeing. What I am really doing is trying to capture their essence or spirit.

If we are lucky, we meet someone along the way in life who “gets us.” What makes them different? We are all naturally more aligned with people who can see us for who we are. Even if you have a child who appears to be unlike you in some regards, we can still learn how to be that nurturer of their spirit.

So what are the magic ingredients that help children believe in themselves? Below are 9 tips you can use to nurture your child’s spirit:

  1. Acceptance. Even if we do not understand a child fully, let them be who they are and embrace their unique approach the world. Watching and listening in a positive light will bring them closer to us.
  2. Listen deeply. Easier said than done. It’s natural to want to cut to the chase and fix things. Try hard not to. Listen and take in the words you are hearing and then think about them a little longer before responding.
  3. Take a chance. Even if a long day at the train museum doesn’t look like your own personal idea of fun, you might be providing an important experience for a future designer or engineer.
  4. Carve out time for daydreaming and play. Forget the Saturday chores and the endless scheduled activities in order to have adequate downtime. Your child needs it in order to develop.
  5. Encourage. Be your child’s cheerleader. Celebrate their efforts, not the outcome.
  6. Keep the criticism at bay. Mistakes are important for learning and growth. Nothing breaks a child’s spirit faster than unnecessary criticism.
  7. Say “thank you”  when your child shares something with you that you did not know before. Our children have so much to teach us if we are open to learning from them.
  8. Embrace what you see before you with your whole heart. Remind your child frequently that you appreciate their unique nature—and that you love them unconditionally.
  9. Take a look back. Remember who you were as a young child and who nurtured your gifts. I am sure you can recall who these people are without hesitation. Seek to be this person in your child’s life. There are few more important gifts that we can pass on to our children than the acceptance for who they truly are.

Mechele Pruitt, BA, is the Director of Parents Place in San Francisco.