As parents who have multiple children will attest, every child is different, and each of them will react to different situations in vastly different ways. However, there are four factors that every child needs from their parents to enhance their ability to grow into healthy, independent adults. Those four factors form the foundation of a particularly effective therapy approach known as Theraplay, and they’re what our counselors focus on helping parents understand so they’re better able to address their kids’ needs.

Let’s examine each of the factors individually and why each is important:


  1. Structure. Kids and teens may push back at their parents’ and other adults’ rules and boundaries, but the reality is they appreciate knowing where those boundaries are. That’s because clear boundaries provide areas in which they feel safest. As parents, we help kids become better at regulating their own behavior by defining and managing those ever-changing boundaries. When kids know they’re safe at home, they also feel safer elsewhere. Structure says, “you are safe.”
  2. Engagement is all about connecting with your child in positive ways and letting them know they are truly important to you and others. Kids need to know they’re a priority in your life, especially that they’re more important than your phone, your job, or your other interests. We need to listen and demonstrate genuine curiosity in their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors, encourage their efforts and interests, and pay attention to how their lives affect their behavior and emotions. Engagement says, “you are important.”
  3. Nurture. You might assume that parents are naturally nurturing, but that isn’t always the case — especially for people who grew up with parents who weren’t particularly warm. Nurturing is a way to reassure your children that you’ll be there to care for them, even when they don’t ask. It tells them it’s okay to have emotions and that their emotions (and yours) aren’t wrong. Children who feel nurtured have stronger self-confidence and self-esteem. Nurture says, “you are loved.”
  4. Challenge. Childhood and adolescence prepare us for adulthood, where a key element is taking risks and trying new things. When your kids try something new and succeed, they gain feelings of competence and mastery that help them approach future challenges with confidence and resilience. And when that something new doesn’t work out as planned, you help them recovery from disappointment and strengthen themselves for the next challenge they’ll tackle. Challenge says, “you are capable.”

It’s important to remember that children and teens need all four of these elements, not just one or two. That can be difficult for some parents who don’t feel they may have enough to offer in one or more of the four areas. If that’s you, it’s worth thinking about sitting down with one of our professional counselors and learning strategies to help you make sure your kids are receiving enough of all four. They’ll become happier and more confident … and you will, too!

If you’re not sure where to start or find yourself struggling in any of these area, please call us. We’re here to help.

A couple of podcasts that might be helpful on this topic:

What teens wish their parents knew

Connecting with your teen

Boundaries with kids

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