For our children, we would do everything and anything for them: leap off a treacherous cliff, stand in front of a speeding train, or any other death-defying deed! So, of course, when it comes to a far-less-daunting task like merely packing our child’s backpack, we gladly do it without hesitation. Why do we quickly swoop in to save our children at every possible moment? It is our natural, parental instinct–we want our children to be safe, successful, and happy. Unfortunately, this innate urge is hard to shut off, and we struggle differentiating when and when not to intervene; consequently, we rescue our kids too frequently and inadvertently create children who lack resilience, problem-solving skills, and a sense of responsibility. Here are some solutions of what we parents can do to raise persistent, accountable, flexible-thinking kids for the new year and beyond:
Maintain High Expectations: Kids are extraordinary–they are capable of so much! Children adjust to their environment and behave according to expectations. If expectations are low, performance is low; if expectations are high, children will rise up. Expect greatness!
Increase Their Load: Often times, we try to physically lighten the load for our children by holding or carrying their belongings for them. This only teaches children that they don’t need to care for or take responsibility for their items. Have children carry and keep track of their own backpacks, clothing items, and other possessions–the bulging lost ‘n’ found will thank you!
Assign Chores: Kids want to help, so let them! Delegate age-appropriate chores for kids to assist around the home. I recommend not giving allowance for chores, as you don’t want to reward behavior that is expected. Don’t worry if jobs are not completed up to your standard; it is learning how to positively contribute that is the goal.
Stick to Original Choices: What message are we sending when our kid tells us they want mac and cheese and then we abandon our pot of boiling water to preheat the oven for pizza just because someone requested a menu change? When kids make a choice, have them commit to it, and reassure them that they will have ample opportunities to choose differently in the future.
Band Together As One: There will be plenty of times when your child will be able to make his or her own choices, but he or she needs to learn how to go along with a team decision. When your family decides to go to the park and your child doesn’t want to go, tough shit. When your child requests food different than the family meal, tough shit. Don’t make special allowances or give privileges to placate a child–this instills a sense of entitlement.
Let Them Do the Packing (and Unpacking): Even preschoolers are capable of unpacking their backpacks and packing them back up for school. If they cannot reach the snacks in the pantry or their lunchbox out of the fridge, have a designated spot where they can access these items so they can place their own food into their backpacks. Also, have a special area for kids to place any homework or papers from school for you to look at; you can place items in the same spot for them to pick up and place into their folder for school.
Teach Them How to Clean Up: Did you seriously just walk past the garbage to hand me a snack wrapper to throw away? Did I seriously just see you randomly drop your socks in the middle of the living room? We assume children know how to put items away when they are done with them simply by observing the adults around them. We need to explicitly teach kids this skill and give them oodles of practice.
Leave Mistakes Be: There is great power in failure. When we allow our children to stumble and trip, they experience natural consequences and learn from their mistakes. When it’s your child’s responsibility to put their gloves on the radiator to dry and they forget, don’t do it for them. They will remember to lay out their gloves when they experience cold, wet fingers the next day at school. If your child forgets his homework on the kitchen table, don’t run it up to school. When we make mistakes, our brain grows and learns so we can refine and improve; if we aren’t permitted to make mistakes, we learn nothing.
Teach Self-Advocacy: Self-advocacy is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. If your child complains about something that is happening at school, sports, or other activities outside the home, refrain from hopping on your phone to email the teacher. Likewise, stop yourself from providing neatly packaged solutions. Children need to brainstorm their own solutions and think through the advantages and disadvantages of their ideas. Help your children learn this problem-solving process; additionally, teach them how to self-advocate by role-playing and having them practice their lines and tone before approaching the real deal.
Allow Exceptions: We are human beings, and more importantly, we are parents. It is impossible to follow through with all of the aforementioned tips all of the time. There will be times when our kids are sick, tired, hungry, in a dangerous situation, or just having a shitty day–of course, we will break these rules and help them. The point isn’t to do everything by the book all the time, but what we can do is try our very best to consistently implement sound parenting techniques.
Happy New Year!