Friday, August 8, 2008

Launching your kids to greater independence

My friend, Suzanne, a 6th grade teacher, says many kids in today's culture haven't developed basic problem-solving skills. Now what could possibly be the reason for that? Could it be that Dad and Mom solve all the problems? The students, when faced with a dilemma in her classroom, rather than dialoguing with her...there they are...standing at her desk in a tizzy calling Dad or Mom to ask for help. As parents we are just a cell-phone call away. When our kids don't know what to do, they call us. If this becomes a habit, it's a recipe for life-long dependency.

Weak children can grow into weak adults who are unable to cope with problems of daily living. Granted, sometimes the situation does warrant a phone call, but the majority of the time, it doesn't. Irresponsibility, mistakes or even an unexpected complexity provide an opportunity for our children to figure out what to do with their quandary.

So what can we as parents do to encourage our kids to develop their reasoning skills and step out into greater independence by making decisions on their own? It means parents have to step back and resist the urge to always come to their aid. Don't tell me this is hard....I know it is!

I love the saying, "Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child." We do want our children to be prepared, not just to cope in the world, but thrive. Thriving means that we have to be able to weather the challenges as well as experience and recover from setbacks and failure. When things don't go right, is your child capable of thinking through their options, using their reasoning expertise and choosing their next course of action?

Developing problem solving skills is an important process for our kids. This doesn't happen if parents always step in to mediate or rescue. A better option is for parents to bring up a possible situation when talking with their children and ask them questions about what they would do if they were in that situation. Get your kids thinking. As parents we are then in a place to offer guidelines and encouragement that re-enforce the values we want to pass down. Role-playing is another good technique for practicing reasoning competence and decision-making. The more practice a child has the more equipped they will be at handling the inevitable unknowns that will come their way.

A very wise mother with grown children said to me, "I gave my kids a bit of a longer leash in some areas when they were still living at home. This allowed me to see how they handled difficult situations." And it gave the child the experience of working through their predicament. She did this so if they made a poor choice, she would still be there to walk through the aftereffects with them. She said she'd rather they experience consequences or disappointments early enough in their life so they would be prepared to deal with bigger crisis on their own once they arrived on a college campus. She knew that "rescuing" would leave them vulnerable to greater mistakes later on.

It's about time for another school year to begin and there will be opportunities this year for you to step back and let them try their wings in a storm. Just remember they are developing "muscles" for thriving down the road.

Photo: Marzanna Syncerz

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