Most of us want our kids to become more confident and independent. We know their future success depends on it, and we worry that if we do everything for them, they’ll never learn to do it for themselves.
To cultivate confidence, our kids need to feel heard; to foster independence, they need to learn how to problem solve.
And yet, even the most well-meaning parents often do something that inadvertently delays our kid’s progress.
What is the mistake we make more often than anything?
We tell our kids what to do.
Seriously, Stop Telling My Kids What to Do?
Yes, seriously. I know you mean well, and it’s what you understand as the most traditional parenting model. When your kids are young, they need direction. It helps things run smoothly: “I’m the parent, you’re the child. Just listen to me, and all will be well.”
Life gets so busy for everyone that it becomes an easy short cut for parents: direct the situation, make a decision and move on. That way, you’re not late for school because your son can’t figure out what to wear. There’s no battle about which television show to watch. You’re calling the shots. It’s easier for everyone.
But is it really?
Figuring out How to Figure it All Out
Here’s the punchline: involving our kids is exactly what they need in order to learn how to manage things themselves. More than direction from us to master the daily challenges of life – like homework, chores, getting up — they need support in figuring out how to figure it all out.
Ever watch a kid who struggles with what to wear? If you get curious, you’ll notice what’s really going on underneath the indecision: the inability to solve a problem.
I love my blue sweater, and it looks fabulous with those new boots. But it’s Thursday and we have PE today. How can I have both?
A kid with less developed executive function may not yet have the ability to solve that dilemma. Our complex kids, who are often 3-5 years behind their peers in their Executive Function development, may feel ready for independence, but their ability to manage their life independently doesn’t match their desire.
So, as “well-meaning” parents, we take the director’s role and jump in with recommendations. But our kid REALLY needs help in HOW to figure it all out.
Besides, as our kids get older, they don’t want us to direct them as much. By the time they’re teens, they may resist our direction entirely. It’s a natural step in becoming an adult.
So what do you do?
Six Steps to Foster Good Decision-Making (and Assure they Won’t Still be on your Couch in Twenty Years)1. Acknowledge Your Child with Compassion:
- Whether your child is 9 and having a hard time sharing, or 16 and struggling to create a homework schedule, first and foremost: honor your child’s experience. It’s normal. We had to learn how, our parents had to, their parents – learning how to figure things out ourselves is not easy, and is a critical step on the road to becoming an independently functioning human being.
- It’s easy in these instances to get frustrated or impatient. Instead of seeing a child that is struggling with a decision or seeking independence, we see a problem – a kid who is disrespectful, or willful, or a situation that must stop. If you lose your cool, you lose your control of the situation. You just can’t parent effectively when you are
- Take the time to listen to their perspective, how they see the situation. Ask them what the problem is that they are trying to solve. Get curious about how they want to handle it, or what options they see.
- This level of understanding takes some maturity – our kids might say “I don’t know.” That’s ok. They probably don’t, yet.
- If your child “doesn’t know,” has shut down, or is lashing out, take a quick time out from the discussion and allow space to calm down – and make sure to not to accidentally make them feel back for struggling (back to #1 –it’s hard for them!). Your child can’t effectively problem solve when triggered, either, so wait until your child can be calm and reasonable. It is usually worth delaying until there is less pressure.
- Let’s face it, it’s easier and faster to jump in and tell our kids what to do than let them figure it out, themselves. And sometimes, they’ve gotten so accustomed to our direction that it’s easier for them, too. At the same time, it’s really important for them to figure out how to figure it out. Resist the urge. WAIT before you respond.
- Sometimes even adults struggle with making decisions on our own, and we certainly have a hard time asking for help when we need it. So raising independent kids actually means teaching them how to ask for the help they need. Because, more than likely, they’re going to need to know how to identify resources for support in their lives (like coaches, or assistants, or effective systems).We all need help filling in the gaps when things don’t come easily. So if you model for your kids the process of asking for the help they need, and teach them that asking for help can be an awesome tool, it’s a great long-term strategy for success.
As parents, it’s easy to forget that we are not just trying to fix the daily struggles and challenges. Ultimately, we want to support our kids in developing the skills that they’re going to need in life – skills that will help them successfully maneuver and manage all of life’s challenges.
And the ability to feel confident in their decisions is absolutely key to their becoming successful, independent adults.
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