Saturday, June 5, 2010

Raising Capable Children

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I heard a man on TV give some good advice to his wife about raising their teenage daughters. “It’s like driving a car,” he said. “When you cross the center line, you gently correct it. If there is a flat, you can’t move forward until the flat tire is removed, repaired and replaced.”

We spend their childhood years teaching our children all we know as best we can. Then we metaphorically put them behind the wheel of a car and watch as they drive off. Of course we still have work to do. When our children transition from childhood to teenager, we adjust and begin to parent differently. If we don’t change our parenting style, we hurt ourselves and our children.

If we can remember our goal is to prepare our children to get behind the wheel—to direct their own lives as they head towards adulthood—then they are much more likely to be able to drive when it’s time—and safely and smartly at that.

In college many of my peers had difficulty getting themselves out of bed in the morning. Some didn’t know the basics—like washing clothes, setting an alarm, balancing a checkbook, cooking simple meals. They had been sent off behind the wheel without operating instructions.

How do we raise capable children?

1. Spend time with them. One of the best ways to teach your children is to be with them. Many times I have used car time to teach things I think my daughter needs to know—from mundane to important, from basic driving rules to my beliefs. Often something will be said that will lead to the sharing of information.

2. Honor who your child is. It is difficult to allow your children to be themselves. For instance my daughter and I have different ideas of hurry. I’ll say, “Hurry up, we are running late to meet your friend.” She’ll say, “Okay, Mom.” To me this means, “I will get what I need so that we might still make it on time.” To her it means: “I’ll walk a little faster, but I’m still going to stop and look at this odd shaped bug.” This difference means I am critical every time one of these situations arise. The message delivered is: “Something is wrong with you.” We help our children by constantly evaluating ourselves and our reactions, doing everything we can to send the message, “You are okay.”

3. Encourage your child to take risks and to learn from their mistakes. Many children are afraid of making mistakes and it is important we give them a safe place to trip up. A good example for this is Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization that teaches public speaking. When you mess up, the audience is supportive. No one laughs, snarls or makes fun of you. Your audience wants you to do well, makes suggestions for next time and, before you leave the lectern, applauds.

4. Put them behind the wheel. As children grow and mature, they will need to try and do more things without parental supervision and assistance. This may be one of the most difficult tasks we face. Letting go. We can do it slowly and carefully—one string at a time. But to ensure that our children develop into capable adults, we must begin the process. We can start in the toddler stage by giving them simple choices. “What do you want to wear today?” Or, “would you like beans or carrots?” By the time they are teens, we need to be giving them many opportunities to do things without us.

Allyn Evans
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