Happy Parent Tip #1
written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
One super amazing thing about my job is that I get to see and learn so much from the parents that I work with. Even before my own children reach a particular age or stage, I have acquired knowledge about the issues that come with a particular time in a child’s life. Over the years I have amassed a wonderful body of learning which has helped me enormously in my own practice as well as with my own children. I feel blessed to have found the job that I have and from time to time, I would like to share some of the tips and understandings that I have come to which have created happier moments for me as a parent and for the parents I have worked with.
Tip number 1 is:
Give your child room to take ownership of their own responsibilities and accomplishments.
Here is a situation I am sure many of us can relate to:
It is time for school. You steel yourself for the daily battle of shoes, coats, and getting to the bus on time. Won’t your children ever learn how to tell time? Don’t they understand that the bus waits for no child and that you have to get to work on time? Within the first month of school you find yourself in the daily cycle of first gently reminding your children of the next step in the morning routine, then, getting firmer with your voice and using your best “I’m serious” tone to get them closer to the door, until you finally get tired of the games the children are playing and either start yelling or start resentfully doing activities they are more than capable of doing had they just managed their time in the ways you suggested.
This is an example of you caring more about your child getting to school than they do. And, really, if you are going to do something and take pride in it, you have to care. As adults we can see this when we go to a store with poor customer service. It is clear that the employees do not take ownership or pride in the running of the store most likely because they have not taken on the understanding that the quality of customer services reflects on them as well as the owners.
Of course it is important to remember your child’s age and developmental stage. For the example of going to school on time a kindergartener, will need much more help than a freshman in high school to get out the door. Also, if asked to in a respectful way, I am all for parents helping children in the morning just as you would want them to help you if you were running late as long as it is not a daily expectation.To illustrate ways you can help your child become more self-motivated rather than allowing you to carry all of the responsibility, you could say any of the following statements that you think would work for your child in a loving way that may cause your child to pause, think and re-prioritize. In the following suggestions I am focusing on elementary school, but they can work well for middle and high school as well although you can expect some verbal push-back.
- I’m not going to work harder to get you to school than you do anymore. You know what time you need to leave. It is up to you to get to the bus on time.
- I wonder what else you have to do to get ready for school? (they know the routine already, they have just been allowing you to do all the thinking for them thus far).
- If we are late, I hope I’m not asked to write a note to excuse you because I won’t be able to do that without telling them why. (You can feel free to fill in the blanks here: Suzie didn’t feel like getting out of bed, taking her shower, etc.) If your child is late after you say this you cannot write an excuse note and you must allow for an unexcused tardy. Otherwise they will know you care more about it than they do.
- I have had several parents who absolutely needed to get kids on the bus on time for work reasons in the morning who told the school that they were going to send their child in pajamas if they refused to get ready in the morning. These parents would pack an outfit for the child to put on at school. (hint: do not pack your child’s favorite clothes)
- If you end up driving a child to school, you can have them pay you back for your time later by saying, “I had to use my time to fix your mistake this morning. You owe me the ten minutes it took me to take you to school. Now I need you to….”
- Don’t forget that when a child has gotten themselves out the door on time, you want to point it out and ask them if they are happy with themselves. Reinforce the good feeling your child has about being on time and point out that there was no yelling, arguing or fussing.
While I know that everything can not be turned so that you help your child find their own initiative for making good decisions (I find it difficult to get children to understand that it benefits them to go to bed on time, for example), there are many times that I see parents, and I include myself in this group, taking on the emotional work for children. Many responsibility issues that cause conflict in families can be eased into in this way, grades, chores, clean rooms, curfews. Sometimes in the process of making our child’s life easier by doing things for them, we can forget that we may also be depriving them of important lessons about taking responsibility for themselves, and learning to manage success and learning opportunities with dignity and a forgiving heart. By stepping back and remembering why we care in the first place, we can realign our own priorities as parents. Ultimately, we want our children to do the things we ask because we love them and we want to learn responsibility etc. so they can have a happier adult life. The best way to do this is to help children see the ways in which taking responsibility is helpful to them, rather than telling them it is important.
What is something you could use help getting your child to take more responsibility for?
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