Darrell noticed that when his son, James, was on the Little League baseball field, he seemed disinterested and didn’t try very hard to catch the balls coming his way. In fact, James didn’t really engage in any of the sports Darrell signed him up for.

But when the family visited his grandma’s house, James’s eyes lit up. He seemed to come alive when his grandmother taught him simple songs on her piano. When she offered to give the piano to James’s family, Darrell accepted and signed his son up for piano lessons. Even though Darrell had dreamed of having a baseball player in the family, he realized his son’s gifts might lie elsewhere.

Tiana had been working on a school paper for a while when her mom said it was time for dinner.

“But I’m not done with this yet,” Tiana said.

When Andrea saw that her daughter had written seven pages for a one-page assignment, she taught Tiana about being “good enough.”

“Your report is great,” she told her daughter, “and it’s way more than the teacher expects. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

These stories are just two examples of the many ways that we can provide support for our children. Darrell provided the tools his son needed to grow in his area of interest, and Andrea guided her daughter away from her perfectionistic tendencies.

But exactly what do we mean by support? And how does it fit in with attachment, self-care, and loving discipline? If we compare our family to that of a sports team, attachment would be belonging to the team: you’re chosen. Self-care then would be making sure the coach (that’s us as parents) and all team members (our children) are healthy and taken care of. Loving discipline is the action of teaching, instructing, correcting, and asking for all the “do-overs” needed to learn and master the skills for living. Support is the coach providing the playbook and anything else the members of our team need in order to practice and eventually enter the game of life well prepared.

Support is the nitty-gritty part of parenting, day in, day out; it’s about supplying children with basic resources and creating a nurturing environment in which those resources can be put to the best use. It has to do with promoting the development of a child’s unique personhood or identity, fostering her ability to think, and providing her with the skills and tools she’s going to need in later life. Support isn’t so much concerned with protecting your child or changing her circumstances as it is with equipping her to get by in the world, come what may.

Why Does It Matter?

There’s a good reason for us to think very carefully about how we’re going to provide healthy parental and family support for our children. Kids who have the strength and confidence to go the distance and weather the storms of life are those who know by experience what it means to be loved and cherished for who they are. Everyone needs relational support, and if our kids don’t get it from us, they’re likely to look for it someplace else. If you aren’t available to help your child work through his feelings when he hits an emotional snag, he’ll almost certainly find someone else to meet that need, whether on the schoolyard or in an online chat room. You’d be well advised to step in first.