Wednesday, May 26, 2010

10 Commandments of Raising Independent and Responsible Children

Lately, I've been growing every more concerned about whether we, as parents, are doing enough to instill a sense of independence and responsibility in our children.  I worry about my older children growing ever closer to adulthood, and whether we've given them enough opportunities to develop responsibility and independence in the safe environment of home.  And I also worry about how easy it is to swoop in and do things for them that they could be doing themselves, just because we're in a hurry...which is always. 

This list encapsulates what I feel is most important in helping kids to develop into happy, responsible individuals.  I'm not perfect at all of them or any of them for that matter, but it is my hope that by writing down my ideas all in one place that it will help me to keep improving. 

1.  Thou shalt let children experience real-life consequences.  Of course, you need to keep your children safe from danger, but whenever possible let them experience natural consequences.  If they don't eat their dinner.  Don't give them extra graham crackers and string cheese an hour later.  Let them be hungry (or if you really can't do that, then offer them a simple, non-exciting snack (like an apple or banana) before bed).  They will certainly not die or faint and they will learn eventually that dinner is the time to eat.

2.  Thou shalt not be a helicopter parent, always hovering over your kids.   Kids need space to try new things.  They may struggle with it at first, especially if they're used to you always hovering over them, but in the end giving them the opportunity to try and succeed (or fail) is far more valuable than your omni-presence. Push them for a few minutes on the swing and walk away and watch from a distance.   Maybe they'll jump off and run to sandbox.  Maybe they'll turn and swing on their belly.  Maybe they'll make a new friend, but in any case how will you ever know if you sit there and push them for half-an-hour straight? 

3.  Thou shalt not jump into save them whenever they struggle.  This is huge. I think as parents we are naturally protective of our children and don't want them to experience failure or embarrassment, but if we jump into save them every time they struggle children inadvertently learn that they are incapable of solving their own problems.  That means that parents shouldn't do their projects for them so they can sleep longer and get a better grade.  Don't run their homework to school for them.  A poor grade or an embarrassing lecture from the teacher is far more educational than them thinking that their half-hearted efforts are good enough for an 'A'. 

4.  Thou shalt take the time to teach them well, then stand back and let them try.   Sometimes I think it's easy for us as parents to just do the simple things for our kids, just because it's easier.   But think of time spent teaching as an investment.  The time we take to teach them to do things right--wiping their own bum, washing their hands, buckling their seatbelts, making their own bed, tying their shoes, pumping a swing, making a budget, etc.--is our future time that we save from not having to do it for them.  As a bonus, kids get the sense of accomplishment and confidence from doing it themselves. 

5.  Thou shalt not underestimate their abilities or second guess them.  As parents, it's way too easy to undermine our efforts in teaching them to be independent and responsible individuals by always second guessing or doubting their decisions.  Do you find yourself criticizing their clothing choices?  Or how long their hair is?  Or which shoes they want to buy?  Or which happy meal they choose?  Let them express their decision and as long as it's not dangerous (or immodest or inappropriate) go with it and don't say a word.  Yes, that may mean they wear an ugly outfit on picture day.  Or have shaggy looking hair for a while.  But when we express our doubts on these unimportant matters we are conveying to them the subconscious message that they're not good enough to make their own decisions, not to mention that we're making it harder for ourselves when, in the future, we do have legitimate input on important decisions. 

6.  Thou shalt create safe opportunities for them to stretch themselves.  This can be as easy as letting your child tie their own shoes in a non-hurried atmosphere or allowing them to tell the waiter what they would like to order at a restaurant.  Or it can be as complex as helping your teen make a budget.  The more practice (and successes) they can experience in a safe, non-stressful environment, the more prepared they will be for real-life experiences.  

7.  Thou shalt not yell or scream when they fail.   You should never make developing a new skill or taking on responsibility a negative experience.  Speak calmly and patiently to them when they are trying out some new skill and while you don't want to save them too quickly, you also don't want to let it escalate into a power struggle. 

8.  Thou shalt let them make decisions on a daily basis.  This can be hard for some parents, but I believe that simple daily decisions from a very early age (like picking their own clothes or which book to read) are so important for them in developing confidence as an independent individual.  That means giving them simple guidelines, like that their clothes be clean and modest, and then keeping your smirks at their crazy mismatched outfits to yourself. 

9.  Thou shalt give them loving encouragement and lend a helping hand when needed.  This isn't the swooping-in-from-the-sidelines-and-saving-them-kind-of-help, but rather about keeping it a positive experience.  If a child is clearly frustrated and failing despite their best efforts, try and turn it back into a positive.  Give them a refresher course on tying their shoe and let them run and play. 

10.   Thou shalt be consistent.  I believe that consistency is one of the most important elements in parenting in general, but especially in teaching kids to be happy, contributing, confident, responsible individuals.  If we only let them tie their own shoe once a week, then hurriedly do it for them the rest of the time, they're not really going to get the satisfaction of it being "their own thing".  We need to be patient with them (at all ages) while they're learning and then consistently expect them to do great things!


Some ideas for things you can let your kids do themselves when developmentally appropriate:
(remember instructing them properly is vital for increasing their chance at successes)

Toddlers:  Wiping themselves, washing hands, simple chores, putting on their own shoes, dressing themselves (actually putting on their own clothes), letting them decide what to eat for breakfast, lunch, or snack, clearing their own dishes from the table after a meal
Preschoolers:  Getting their own drinks, pouring milk on their cereal, buckling up their own seatbelts, tying their shoes, zipping and buttoning their own clothes, making bed, folding towels and blankets, simple chores around the house, watering plants, let them tell the waiter what their order is (I have my kids do this from the time they can speak clearly (usually around age 4).  It's a safe way for them to start learning to interact with people outside the family)
School-Age:  keeping track of their own homework, checking the mail, preparing their own lunches, chores, making bed, teaching FHE lessons, cooking either treats or part of a meal, helping with a younger child, feeding a pet, weeding, letting them walk to the bus stop themselves (when old enough), ordering their own food at a restaurant
Teens:  managing their own money, keeping track of homework, more responsible chores, planning and teaching a FHE lesson, helping take care of younger child (babysitting), planning and making meals, laundry, heavy yard work like mowing and trimming, part-time jobs, letting them solve their own problems whenever possible



Steve-Rosanna said...

Excellent post Lara-one that you could almost expand into a book on parenting.

Of course, you had a unfair head-start as you had me as a "bad" example of how not to parent. What a contrast between mom and myself as examples of parenting.

She is the sole reason that each of you became independent and responsibile adults.

Honestly believe that righteous and loving Mothers are the keys to raising successful families.

Lara said...

Mom & Dad,
You are the ones who taught me these things.

alexandra said...

Great insights. I think #10 is the hardest to keep, but probably the most important!

Karey said...

What a great list, Lara! Thanks for taking the time to put this all down in one place! Matt and I really look up to you and Glen as one of many examples of great parents in our family!

Jocelyn Christensen said...

Ooh, I need to print this out!

Denise said...

I really enjoyed this Lara. It very much mirrors my parenting philosophy.

The "free-range" parenting blog I read espouses many of these same themes and I have tried to be very purposeful in giving the children new opportunities.

They are all very independent and I appreciate how they live up to the responsibility that they are given.

Great post!

melissa said...

well #1 I see a bit differently... if I make something for dinner and the kids don't like it they are free to have cereal or make a sandwich and that is fine by me. I have the same rules for myself, if I don't like what I make... I'm free to have cereal or make myself a sandwich too lol!

I love how you encourage patience... and I frequently need that reminder. I think how much patience our loving Heavenly Father must have for all of us and so I strive (although imperfectly) to show that same grace and mercy to my little ones who have been on this earth less time than I have :)

Deanne said...

What a great list. I totally agree with you on these things and it's great to have a reminder in a list form. There are many areas I'm constantly working on, but I keep trying to get it right.

Regarding our kids ordering their own food...I need some advice. I've tried this a few times with Sophie and Truman. Truman doesn't have much of a problem doing it, but it has brought Sophie to tears on 2 occasions (to have to order ice cream at McDonald's). She gets herself all worked up and nervous to talk to someone she doesn't know. She's the one that doesn't like new uncomfortable situations. Any suggestions on how I can better encourage her to not be nervous or shy around (safe) people she doesn't know, like teachers, parents of friends, and store/restaurant workers?

Mrs.Spy said...

I am printing this up, great advice in this post!

Saimi said...

I was really bad at #3. I loved to do projects. What started out as something we did together, eventually ended up with me taking over.

They finally weaned me and I wasn't allowed to help. HA!

Great advice!! Stopping by from MMB

Andrea said...

I need to work on #5--I've underestimated my son so many times.

Annette said...

Excellent post! You should write a book ... oh wait ... you've done that!

Great reminders for me, thanks.

Jocelyn Christensen said...

did you realize that you were featured here:

John and Kate said...

Parenting with love and logic