May 17, 2013
Don’t do anything for a child that the child can do for him/herself.
~Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen
Easier said than done, in my humble opinion. At the same time, a goal I find worthy of my effort whenever I remember this sage advice.
After reading the recent New York Times article, “When Helping Hurts” by Eli J. Finkel, I was thinking how this applies no matter the age of your child. Whether they are 4 or 24. I am not aware of ever having a met a parent who had the goal of hurting their children. And yet, there are loving actions that can ultimately have that outcome if we are not attuned to what is truly needed.
My style is to rescue, rush to make ‘right’, spare my children discomfort and pain. Some times it is motivated by the need to make them feel better and, to be honest, sometimes it’s my own control issue about how and when something gets done. Either way I interfere with them learning and developing life skills for themselves.
When I am disentangled, I realize these situations are offering them opportunities to develop their own problem solving skills, experience the law of cause and effect, and build self-esteem. As a parent, why would I interfere with those wonderful outcomes?
“Well…I don’t mean to, it’s just that….” Can you feel me blushing and fumbling for a reason??
I mean, we are responsible for preparing them to live independent lives…right?
Here is where courage comes in. Breathing into my heart, I ask “what is mine to do here?” This is tough when I see so clearly how and when it needs to be done or they are wailing with disappointment that is growing into despair. My advice on both counts is ‘give it a minute’.
In truth, my daughters often show me a multitude of ways that things can be accomplished. Mine is NOT the only way from point A to point B. I grow as much as they do when I get out of the way.
Truly I love doing for my girls. There are times when it is appropriate to fly in, my Super Mom cape flapping the breeze behind me, and save the day! They love it and my ego does too.
Then there are those ‘in between’ times. These are times when guidance is needed and it is possible to assist without taking over. Asking rather than telling is a great tool I use in these circumstances. By asking questions with a point in mind, children get to discover answers for themselves. This gets them to think for themselves rather than me filling their brain with ‘what I know’. This is especially helpful with teens who are programmed to tune out most of what you say anyway.
Here are some examples of asking rather than telling:
• What do you think will happen if you pour the milk holding the jug with your teeth?
• Is there enough time to complete that college application by tomorrow and see the band tonight?
• Will you be warm enough without your coat?
• Do you think the cat enjoys being thrown across the room?
I’m being funny with some of those…obviously…and I hope those ideas get your brain rolling with how this could work for you.
It’s exhausting as a parent to be in charge all the time. I encourage you to embrace moments where you can step back or let go completely. Watch your children grow and see what amazing beings they are growing into. Yes, a 2 year old can scramble eggs with supervision and an 18 year old can complete her college application on her own, with me in the next room available if needed. School aged children can pack their own lunches, with some guidance and a teenager can walk into a place of business and apply for a job, on their own, with some helpful question prepping ahead of time. It always helps to add in a verbal “I believe in you!” for encouragement.
How do you inspire confidence and capability in your children?
What was the hardest thing you had to let go of and let them figure out?
What did your child do as a result that surprised you?