Thursday, December 18, 2008

Back to Square One

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If I take a realistic look at myself, I tend to be overprotective of my daughter. I’m no Helicopter Mom, but my methods probably would give Lenore Skanzy—the New York columnist famous for allowing her nine-year-old to ride home on the subway alone—the heebie jeebies. (On a side note I can't wait to read her upcoming book about this very subject!)

In my defense, protecting a pre-teen or younger child is not the same as micromanaging that child. Protecting keeps your children safe. Micromanaging has you doing things the children should be handling for themselves, which keeps them from becoming self-reliant.

How can parents who shelter and protect also raise a self-reliant child? Maybe Lenore would think we couldn’t. I disagree. There are many things we can do.

For starters, we can help them learn how to solve their problems. The operative word here is “help.” If we fix every problems for them, we aren’t teaching anything. We don’t need to clean up their messes or their mistakes. I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped myself from picking up clothes scattered in all the wrong places of our house. Even though I have to fight every fiber in my being NOT to pick up the mess, I wait and let the person who threw the clothes on the floor clean up.

Give your child as many opportunities as possible to be in charge while you are in the background ready to help if needed. Again, the operative word is “help.” Recently Addy and a pre-teen friend joined me on a trip to New York City. I asked them to serve as our guides in the airports. “Tell me how to get to our next gate,” I would say. I gave hints when the girls needed them, but they served as our navigators and directed us to all the right places, getting us there on time.

There’s more we can do. We can take our child to open a bank account so he can manage his allowance money. We can help our child launch a business enterprise. In our community there is a book store that will buy used books. Whenever Addy wants extra money, she collects books from friends and relatives to sell to the store.

In It’s Not That Complicated Douglas Peine says, “The vast majority of successful parents in our society are not psychologists; they are those who, rich or poor, sophisticated or naïve, are able to commit nothing more than their love and fundamental common sense to the task of raising their children.”

Common sense part is key. We want to make sure we do things that help our children be responsible while creating good habits. We do this by giving and monitoring chores. We also can do this by allowing them to make age-appropriate choices. Choices like when they do their homework or what they’ll be doing after school on any given day. For the younger kiddos it can be as simple as asking, “What’s your pleasure tonight? Ham or turkey?”

Something we started early on with Addy was talking to her about “taking care of her business.” We tell her the more she takes care of her own business—meaning the more responsible she is—the less she’ll find us in her business. When we’ve had to step in—let’s say to monitor homework more closely—she gets it. She understands that if she starts taking care of her business, then we’ll be less involved in the details of her life.

When parents are protective, children have plenty of safe space for learning to make the choices and take the responsibility that make them self-reliant.

Allyn Evans
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