3 Ways To Help You Become A More Engaged Parent

To strengthen our children means parents must be strong and engaged, too. Discover three ways Black folks can become more engaged parents
Shaun “SF” Banks creator of camp warrior king with his camp warrior king kids

As we continue our dialogue about how to strengthen and empower the Black community, we turn to a fascinating topic: How to be an engaged parent.

Of course, one of the ways in which we can strengthen the Black community is by strengthening our children—which means our parents must be strong and engaged, too.

In this blog post, we’re looking at three ways we can become more engaged – involved, interested, and attentive parents.

The idea came to me after chatting with Shaun “SF” Banks, who has been involved in youth personal development for decades, on a recent episode of my podcast, Hey, I’m Listening!

Shaun created Camp Warrior King, which helps thousands of youth gain exposure to activities they would not normally have. He excels in motivating children to go after their dreams and educating families on effective ways to produce the best version of their children.

What stuck out to me during our discussion was how open Shaun is about what makes him afraid. Do you know what makes you afraid? Shaun is afraid of “fear” itself.

I recently read a wonderful book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm. Thich explores our relationship with fear and how it can often hold us back or cause us to suffer needlessly. He goes on to offer some powerful insights and practical teachings on how we can develop a deep understanding of fear and use mindfulness to transform it into positive actions. It’s a great read for anyone looking to learn more about themselves and how they can overcome obstacles in life.

Shaun might have read this book, because I could have taken his next statement right from the book. 

“Not being able to do something—or [worrying] what people think—that in itself actually stops you from getting to your goals,” he said during the episode. “That I would allow something to create such a barrier between me and what I want to do is actually the most concerning thing for me. So, when I do experience fear, I make sure that I attack it as fast as possible so it doesn’t grow roots.”

My conversation with Shaun–and this post—is timely as I coordinate the National Healing Journey, covered in another recent blog post. The goal of trauma recovery is to discover every fear inspired by our traumas, face them and dismantle them. 

I sought to hear Shaun’s thoughts about what makes us, as a people, unhealthy—and how we can raise the awareness of our need to heal from the traumas that our ancestors experienced that we continue to experience now through our fears.

I know from experience that fear keeps you stuck, which is one of the reasons I found Shaun’s work with the younger generation so fascinating—as well as his unwavering commitment to making them know and believe that anything is possible.

“Whatever they imagine, whatever they see in their mind, they can do,” he said. “With that comes work and effort. We’re in a microwave society where kids want things yesterday; they want it now. And the idea is, you can have whatever you want—but you’re going to have to work for it. You’re going to have to put in some blood, sweat and tears to make it happen.”

Before we dive into how to become a more engaged parent, I’d like to take a look at how fear can hold us back.

What is your child trying to create

Reality roadmap

In a previous post, I talked about Mahatma Gandhi’s all-inspiring roadmap for creating the reality we want to see. Whether your child is trying to get an A+ on the next exam, become a basketball player or aspiring to be a business leader, their success or failure will be determined by the false and fear-based beliefs they hold.

Taking action against fear

The best way to help children become unafraid, according to Shaun?

Action.

If a child won’t act because they’re afraid, break down an action into small steps. He described a great example of a child who’s afraid to enter a pool.

In the past, some people would simply pick them up and throw them in the water.

Now, parents typically take a gentler approach, starting with looking at the pool, then touching it, and so on until the child is ready to be completely submerged in the water.

I love this approach.

When they’re afraid, some kids will run away, scream or fight because they can’t think clearly. They may even shut down to the point where they can’t act for themselves—and that’s a trauma response.

For those who are acting from a place of trauma, Shaun suggested getting them to see the object of their fear in their mind’s eye.

“What does this water look like? What might it feel like? Is it going to be cool or is it going to be warm?” he asked our listeners. “Let them start to see it and manifest it from the mind into the physical. That’s what I’ve seen that has worked for children over the last 20 years I’ve been doing it.”

Again, Shaun is bang-on with some of the great teachers of our time. In his book You’re Not Broken, Chris Duncan talks about “action” as the essential step in the reality creation process. Chris is a conscious creator who normalizes the fear that comes with creating the life we love. In fact, he calls it creative tension. We’ve all felt the doubt, guilt, uncertainty, shame and negativity that come as we push toward something we desire.

Chris has developed a technique called the RE-CODE and now teaches thousands of people how to a) quickly identify the original moments when these fears first arose and b) quickly reinterpret them as the thing you see just before you push through and successfully get that thing you desire.

Chris says the mistake most of us make is getting caught up in the egoic agenda whose primary task is to keep everything the same. As we experience the creative tensions, we go into a psychological spin and want to dissect ourselves and write a book on why we are afraid.

But that should not be your point of focus. Instead, we should all ask the question: “What is the next best action I need to take to push from this place of failure or fear or doubt or shame into success or courage or determination or pride?” As the diagram below demonstrates, if we focus on resolving this tension versus identifying the next best action, we end up right where we started.

A key consideration is meeting a child on their level, whatever that level may be. That takes time and patience, but it is essential for parents to consider when engaging with children.

Keeping that baseline fear-tackling technique in mind, I’d like to move on to three ways to become a more engaged parent.

1. The importance of building a strong community

A sense of community is a long-standing and integral part of the Black parenting experience, according to this article written by LaKeisha Fleming. Teaching your children to be part of a community and socialize is especially important after large-scale societal disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic.

two Black couples with kids

In fact, a strong sense of community even has a positive impact on mental health, reducing chronic stress for parents and bolstering children’s self-esteem and sense of self, pride and value. “In addition to offering connection and support, community can also magnify a sense of purpose,” Fleming stated.

At Shaun’s youth camps, he hosts events like Family Fridays, where attendees enjoy a fish fry and music to build a community feel.

“We’re big on community and fellowship…and that’s something you don’t see in other programs,” he said. “It’s building that family atmosphere, kind of creating a family reunion every Friday so the kids can see their parents interacting, maybe playing dominoes or playing spades, and sipping lemonade or dancing on the dance floor.”

Even if a child is more on the introverted side, interacting with community members will help them develop the social skills required to verbalize their feelings or speak up for themselves.

Not only will they develop their socialization skills, but they will also interact with other folks of different socioeconomic backgrounds and family structures, preparing them for the diversity they will encounter as they progress through life.

2. Navigating the impacts of technology

While gadgets and technology certainly make our lives easier in so many ways, they can also create a sense of isolation, especially as children begin interacting with electronics at younger and younger ages. Too much screen time can also lead to obesity, irregular sleep, behavioural problems and other negative effects.

black girl and boy with phone sitting

According to one Pew Research study, 71% of parents of young children say they are at least somewhat concerned that their child might spend too much time in front of screens.

To build our children’s social skills and avoid the negative effects of too much screen time, it’s imperative we limit the use of electronic devices like phones, tablets and televisions. I strongly encourage parents to make it a priority to enjoy “unplugged” time with their children every day.

I know I know—it can be tough to carve out time in today’s busy world after a stressful day. But by engaging in a collective effort to minimize the use of technology, parents and guardians can help contribute to healthier habits in their children.

“Even though you’re going to be tired…it pays huge dividends in the long run,” Shaun said. “Your child is your most important investment, so what you put in is what you’re going to get out of your children most times.”

3. Exploring the concept of gentle parenting

The “tough love” approach that’s often associated with Black parenting was, in fact, a result of colonization and slavery, wherein “enslaved African parents were forced to use harsh parenting styles to keep their children safe from white oppressors.”

black man carrying girl child on the back

The gentle parenting movement marks a return to our roots as we reclaim our ancestral forms of parenting. According to parents.com, gentle parenting is “a style of parenting that promotes an authentic two-way relationship between parent and child.” Its three foundational principles are understanding, empathy and respect—and appreciating they are reciprocal.

I love what this Essence piece has to say about gentle parenting in relation to the Black community—it’s an opportunity to “give our own inner child the space to feel held, heard and honored.”

Bonus tip: Empowering your children

In addition to the usual stresses related to parenting, Black parents face other external issues like systemic racism.

Research over the last decade calls on parents to “transmit more messages designed to prepare their children for the racism and discrimination they are likely to face while fostering positive adaptation and resilience.”

This paper about parental involvement implications for Black parents states: “Teaching children about the harmful effects of discrimination and stereotypes, while simultaneously emphasizing the child’s cultural background, self-worth, and equality among all people, may socialize Black children to become resilient to the negative effects of discrimination and stereotypes.”

We can step into a place where we decide, as a nation, that we will be healthy and will take the appropriate steps to be healthy. But if the system that surrounds us doesn’t shift—and we don’t demand that it shifts—then how can we make an impact?

Sharing our culture—and the soul and spirit of our people—can help our children develop a strong sense of self, of culture and of empowerment. There are unique ways to share that natural vibrancy and the value of community.

In this parenting article, interviewee Riana Elyse Anderson outlines a family tree exercise that not only shows who your family members are, but how “big and resourceful your community, your garden, your village is…You start to understand there are people who have come before you and who will come after you who will continue this really rich tradition of who we are and how wonderful our people are.”

Another way is through storytelling in a manner that will resonate with youth. For example, some Black storytellers “weave cultural identity through the stakes, magic, and intrigue of science fiction and fantasy. These stories make sense of pieces of cultural identity that have been erased by colonization and the system of racism in the Western world.”

Shaun brought up a fantastic martial arts proverb that says when there’s no enemy within, the enemy outside can do no harm. That’s why it’s so important for us to empower our children so they can conquer those outside enemies.

The power of education as a tool for empowerment

By education, I don’t simply mean the traditional school system. Included in education is spending time teaching our children and acting as a role model through our own actions.

It may be challenging at times, especially if we have unaddressed trauma deep within ourselves.

“We have to start by parents getting the help that we need…whether that’s getting counselling, going to church, whatever works for you,” said Shaun. “You do that…so you could be the vessel you need to be for your children.”

Resources like the Self-Reflection Journal for Black Parents can provide a safe space for you to write your innermost thoughts, reconnect with your parenting and family goals, and reflect. This guidebook combines storytelling with practical exercises, citing methods of parenting rooted in liberation rather than fear.

Similarly, my forgiveness journal, Master the Art of Letting Go, will walk you through a process that will bring about profound change.

The gift of positive life experiences

It goes without saying that every child is unique—so we must teach them to be the best version of themselves. Part of that process is providing positive experiences to help fuel their respective dreams and interests.

“It’s taking the limits off of the kids by not projecting our own fears and doubts onto them. It doesn’t matter whether or not that kid will be the next NBA player or not—what matters is that they believe they can and that then we began to push them,” said Shaun.

From building a sense of community to unplugging from technological devices to empowering your children through education, there are plenty of ways to help you grow into a more engaged parent. I encourage you to listen to my series of podcast episodes with Shaun, and reflect on how you can connect with your child(ren) in a more profound way moving forward.

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Dr. Joan

Dr. Joan Samuels-Dennis, Ph.D., is an award-winning speaker and authority on trauma recovery. She is a pioneer of a powerful Truth, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation process that brings healing to individuals, families, communities, and nations. For over a decade she worked to perfect the groundbreaking trauma recovery technique called The Forgiveness Method.

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