Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a reference manual that listed all the possible ways to work with your child to ensure they grow up and have limited: behavior problems, academic difficulties, or relationship issues? Many books have been written about how to parent and probably more have been written about failures and things to avoid. Parenting is challenging every day. Questions like: “Does my child have issues with anger? Do their academic concerns mean they have ADHD?” Are they bullying other children? Does this behavior mean they have anxiety?” plague us constantly. It appears that there is no one recipe for success. So what do you do? Do you read books, ask your friends who are parents, ask your parents, or wing it?
I think it is important to be realistic about your expectations. We all feel our children are the next leaders or Olympic hopefuls. What is more likely is they will be good at what they enjoy and grow up to be similar examples of what we have accomplished ourselves. I believe this starts with identifying our children as “capable”. If you give a child the opportunity to try; succeed or fail, they will learn quite a bit of information about themselves and the world. As parents we have to start with trust. When you trust your child to do something, you give them the power to feel capable. This works with physical and emotional tasks. Have you ever watched your child after they have fallen and skinned a knee, look to you for a reaction? How you approach them is key to whether you help them feel overwhelmed or capable to manage this issue. A 2012 study in the journal Family Relations found that parents who typically “over parented” were found to have children with greater instances of depression, anxiety, and a sense of entitlement.
The world is a big and potentially scary place, but children are designed to reach outside our grasp and explore. So how do you go about training yourself to help them move out into the world?
1. Ask yourself: “Are they in real danger”? If not determine if you can live with the outcome? What are the “best” and “worst” case scenarios? Your job is to be “there” not “in there”.
2. Watch for signs that your child is ready. Kids know their pace and they will let us know when they are ready to do something.
3. Don’t throw a party for every accomplishment. Save the parade for the big stuff. It tends to mean less when it is more frequent and around something that didn’t really require much effort.
4. Don’t offer to teach new skills when you and your child cannot adequately devote the time. Early morning when you are trying to get out the door is not the time to have a shoe tying lesson. Pick a time when everyone is relaxed and offer a brief explanation and rehearsal period to practice. Allow them to try and offer to help them if they should ask. Break down larger tasks into steps. For emotional independence goals, practice ways to handle situations in and outside of the home.
5. Once they get it…stay out of it. Allow them to achieve success. If problems arise, don’t rescue them. You can be supportive without taking over.
6. Possibly the hardest thing will be to let them “fail”. This especially applies to school work which often causes heated arguments. Let your kids know when you are available to help and stick with this. But realize, this lesson will not be learned unless you are willing to stick with it. Going to school unprepared will have natural consequences. Allowing these consequences to teach your child about responsibility will help reduce negative interactions between you and your child and give them an opportunity to work smarter to get the job done.