As parents, we get busy. We get wrapped up in the day-to-day, mundane rituals that it is easy to jump in and take over when our kids stumble or struggle.
They ask for a math answer. They can't open the jar. You can't stand the way their room looks for one more minute. They forgot their lunch or homework.
They know it. They know when you are busy and when you'll jump in and do it for them. The trouble is, it doesn't make for self-reliant adults.
There are some phrases and actions to add to your repertoire to help your kids learn to do it on their own.
Never do for a child what he can do for himself
The first time I heard this, I was a young mother. I thought, "How cruel!" Boy, did I learn quickly. While it sounds harsh, it is almost always the way to go. Being self-sufficient helps children blossom into adults with great self-esteem. They know they can manage, and it makes them so much happier. You know how you feel when you accomplish something difficult. Let them enjoy the same joy and be their cheering section when they do.
"I'm busy just now, but I know you can get this done." "I believe in you." "I trust your judgment." "I've seen you do impossible things before." "Go for it." "Job well done!" "Good for you." "I'm so proud of you." "I love how much you can do for yourself." "Go, go, go." "I bet you can finish this bedroom up in 20 minutes. I've got ice cream when you do." "You can do this!" "What do you think the answer is?"
Restraint—the hard part
The most difficult thing for parents is taking that two seconds and holding back. Our minds are programmed to solve problems and step in. We do it at home, at work and wherever we see something that needs to be fixed. Devise a way to break this habit. Count to ten. Take a deep breath — just don't make it sound like a frustrated sigh. Say, "Hmmmm ... " and pause. Scratch your head. Crack your knuckles. Develop whatever habit you need to break the "jump in and fix" ritual.
Another place to show restraint is when they screw it up. When they do it wrong. When they don't do it your way. Here is where you have to really weigh things out. You don't want to discourage them, but you want things done effectively. That's the rub. You have to realize that there may be more than one way to accomplish the task, and having them figure out alternatives is actually a good thing. They are thinking and processing and problem-solving. That doesn't mean you should let sloppy work slide at all. Demand that they give it their best effort, but applaud thinking outside the box.
This philosophy does not stop with the children you are raising at home now. It should continue into their adulthood and parenthood. Stepping in and fixing the messes our adult children get into does them no favors, either. Stop and think before responding to helpless pleas.
The snowball effect
When children discover they can do more for themselves, it snowballs into a habit, and everyone is happier. You will find yourself with less frustration and more time to enjoy them. They will be more confident and will enjoy the time you have more as well. It is a win-win situation.
A change like this one is challenging at the start. Old habits die hard. Be patient with yourself and with the initial frustration your child may feel with this new way of thinking. But if you endure, it will be well worth the effort and tears.
We always think about raising children, but our real job is raising adults. The better we do, the greater the chance they will be happy, productive adults.