"NEVER do for a child what he can do for himself."
One of the first parenting courses I took was based on the teachings of Rudolf Dreikurs who is author of this statement. Today, 40 years later, this comment has stayed with me through all the workshops, courses, keynotes and seminars I have presented and attended.
If we want our children to grow up to be capable young men and women able to take on the challenges and responsibilities of adulthood, we need to give them the opportunities to develop the skills they will need.
We would all agree that having our children do for themselves whatever they can is a reasonable and responsible parenting choice.
But, what about when Joey is trying to put on his sweater and it's inside out and you know that when he figures that out he's likely to get the buttons mixed up? Or when Lucy is working to get into her shoes and taking what seems like forever and you're in a hurry?
If we take the sweater from Joey and reverse it and then help him to get it on with the buttons lined up correctly, what are we teaching him?
He is learning that he can't figure it out for himself, that he needs you to save him from his struggles. Soon he may easily become a child who just waits to let others do for him what he could, with some effort, do for himself. When we do everything for our kids they become increasingly inept and may become the young adult, still living at home unable to find a job. Is that what you want for your kids?
We are all so busy and rushed that letting Lucy take the time she needs to get into her shoes is just too frustrating so we do it for her. Wouldn't it be a better idea to rearrange the schedule so that she starts earlier and has the time she needs to look after herself? When you help her by creating a schedule that allows her the time she needs, she will learn to plan her life to give her the time she needs. And she'll learn that she can get into her shoes when her parents just leave her to do the job at hand.
We need to let our kids struggle. That's how they grow and learn. They learn how to tackle the task at hand and persevere until they get it. They also learn that you have faith in their ability to take on challenges and to look after yourself. It's a great message.
Another way we sometimes deny our kids the chance to grow up is when we fix their problems.
At bedtime, nine-year-old Juliette suddenly remembers that she needs to wash her gym clothes before morning. She could get up early and do her wash or simply wear her clothing dirty but in too many cases her mom says she will do it for her. Or 10-year-old Lucas forgets his lunch and phones his dad at work to ask him to go and get it for him. Dad can leave work, get the lunch and bring it to school or he can offer sympathy and give him the message that he's sure that Lucas can handle the problem.
Our children are constantly learning. When we let them do for themselves we are giving them an amazing gift.
They learn how to become increasingly independent, how to problem-solve and how to take responsibility for their own actions and behaviors.
They also learn that we have faith in them and that we will support and guide them but that we will let them take charge of parts of their lives as they are ready.
These kids will be the leaders of tomorrow and tomorrow needs strong leaders.
Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at www.parentingtoday.ca.