Contributed by guest blogger: Harriet Cabelly
Sometimes less is more. Less rushing in to solve our kids’ problems can result is allowing them the time and space to think things through on their own. In other words, encouraging and facilitating their problem-solving abilities as opposed to enabling them to rely upon us.
It is not easy to step back and watch our child struggle or be upset by something and not run in to do it for them or tell them how to handle their upset. After all, we’ve been there and can protect them from hurts with our greater knowledge, wisdom and years of experience. So why let them struggle through something when we can give them the ‘right’ solution. Isn’t that our job – to safeguard them from any difficulties that are in our control?
In our efforts to protect, we are short-changing them. We are cloistering them from learning to handle the bumpy situations for themselves. Even worse , we are conditioning them to not trust their own abilities. Our quick advancement into the problem area tells them, “you can’t”, or “it’s not good enough, Mommy/Daddy needs to step in”. Is that the message we want to give our kids?
The message to carry them into a life of success which involves risk-taking, perseverance, problem-solving, and overall resilience is an ‘I Can’ attitude.
Instead of taking away those tough situations from them by fixing, problem-solving for them, stepping in on their behalf or telling them what to do, we need to encourage, brainstorm with them, elicit their ideas, question them as to what they think might be a way to handle the situation. We must listen, respect and value what they have to say. This provides the foundation for them to begin to trust in themselves, to develop that all important sense of self-worth and a belief in themselves as competent people. These are some of the most important threads of ‘humanhood’ needed to function well in life.
Because of our grown-up experiences in life, we know all too well that life is not always easy to manage and navigate. We therefore must raise our children with the skills, attributes and inner self-strength to handle their lives in an emotionally healthy and highly functional manner.
We must allow for mistakes, and mistakes that don’t yield an ‘I told you so’ response. Mistakes that don’t elicit a response of, ‘here let me do it for you.’ Rather mistakes that promote self-correction, making amends, taking ownership and responsibility; mistakes seen as valuable learning lessons, not catastrophes. Mistakes that are turned into learning and problem-solving opportunities.
Your five year old spills his milk. Ask him what needs to be done. Allow him to sponge it up or use a paper towel, even if the job is not done perfectly. (You can always go back in and clean it up better when he’s out of the room and doesn’t see you cleaning up after him.) And then encourage him to pour the milk again.
Your twelve year old breaks the neighbor’s window with a ball. Ask him how he feels he should make amends and take responsibility for this accident/mistake. He could go over to the house, call them up but an apology must be extended by him (not by us the parents) and an offer to pay for it. Then brainstorm with him how he will pay for it. You could split the cost with him; as long as he is experiencing the consequence of his actions (by paying some out of his own money, ie. Allowance, present money).
My daughter used to always return her library books late. And I paid the late fee. Punishing her did nothing to correct the problem. It was only after she started paying her own late fees that the problem basically ended. When she felt it out of her own little allowance pocket, the books got returned on time.
Let’s be on board in our children’s journey towards independence by: allowing them to do what they can do, coaching them towards their own solutions to difficulties, allowing them to make mistakes and together coming up with amends, corrections and improvements and by acknowledging their struggles and giving them the chance to come up with their own ideas and thoughts about tackling their problems.
Many of us believe that the more we do for our child, the better parent we are. In reality, less can be more. By stepping back and allowing for their age-appropriate level of independence to manifest (according to their abilities) and being a guide rather than do-it-all for them, we are giving our children a gift of a lifetime.
Harriet Cabelly is a social worker and life coach emphasizing living life to its fullest and creating a good life out of (or despite) adversity. Read more about her at Rebuild Your Life Coach and read the latest from her blog.
Harriet is also a parent coach and facilitates many parent workshops. She is passionate about empowering parents to be the best they can be. “We only get 18 years to ‘technically’ raise our kids. Let’s parent in the most conscious and reflective way possible.”