One of the main ideas that I try to share with the parents I work with in my coaching is the basic fundamental truth that you cannot control your child. Now, usually when a parent comes to me with a parenting concern they are looking for a way to change their child’s behavior – QUICK! Unfortunately I have to pop that bubble of hope and explain that as parents we only really do have control over our own actions and when we realize that and start relating to our children remembering they have a mind and will of their own we can start to move forward.
Most parenting books and resources just offer different forms of manipulation in order to get your child to do what you want them to do, when you want them to do it. You use charts, threats, and fear. I often ask parents if they would prefer their child learn to make the “right” choices or just make choices based on getting a reward or because ultimately they are fearful of you? Most often parents see the parallel here and chose the option of allowing their child to make choices and the lesson that teaches them about real life.
One area that most parents struggle with is allowing their child to suffer. Now don’t get the wrong idea – hear me out! Suffering can look many different ways, and I wanted to share with you what I have experienced and what I like to the moms I work with so consider.
I want to highlight two of the biggest fears/struggles that parents work through when trying to incorporate a new style of parenting in their home which allows their child to make more choices and the repercussions of those choices.
Allowing problem solving:
This one is the easiest for parents to grasp and actually put into action. Simply put, when your child has a problem and they come to you asking you to “fix it” for them – do you? This can be as simple as asking you a question. If your child is doing their homework and ask you how to spell a word, do you stop what you are doing and give them the information or do you help them by showing how they can solve that problem on their own? Instead of just spelling the word for them, why not offer the dictionary or internet as a resource? When your family is getting ready to go out for the day and your child needs to bring along some items (a change of clothes, book, or other similar items) instead of just giving them that information when they come to you asking, why not ask them what they think they may need. They often will surprise you by knowing or at least getting close to what you had in mind – all on their own!
It seems the earlier and more times I started doing this type of questioning back to my children, the less they came asking me to help them solve something or think for them. They soon started figuring things our on their own without my help! Ultimately isn’t that what we want our kids to do, figure out solutions to their own problems? I don’t know about you but when my child leaves home I don’t really want them calling me 42 times a day asking me questions. Yes, that is a humorous way to look at the concept, but ask yourself, when do you start this type of learning experience for your children? Seems to me it makes sense to start is as soon as they are of an age to start solving some things on their own. Your child is an individual and you know them best – you will know the right time!
Allowing the wrong choice:
This experience is more difficult for parents to grasp and follow through on. It is hard to see our children make mistakes or make choices that would not be the best for them. We love our children, we want the best for them and watching them struggle is very difficult. But it is really the most loving thing we can do. When your child is given the opportunity to make a wrong choice and then work through the results of that choice with you as the parent alongside them, there is more learning going on there than just a speech would cover. Unfortunately we learn best when we actually have to walk through a bad choice and deal with the consequences.
An example I recall is what happened with one of our sons. In our home once you have shown that you are responsible to do your homework without our supervision or looking over your shoulder, you are then allowed to do your homework whenever you want. The catch is, if you miss an assignment or have a late paper, you lose that privilege for a period of time. Then we are dictating when homework must be accomplished.
Imagine how much more effective and impactful this becomes when my son realizes he didn’t look through his backpack good enough to realize he has an assignment due in the morning and then has to stay up till 11 PM to complete it OR deal with the consequence of losing his privilege of choosing when he can do his work. As a parent it was difficult to go to bed knowing he was still up, working on that paper. But I can tell you, as painful as it was to allow him to make that choice and then have to watch him solve it on his own, it impacted him in a way that lecturing never would have. There are so many opportunities to let your child have these little life lessons, don’t let them slip by because of your anxiety and fear.
Ultimately we all want to raise responsible and resourceful adults. That is our goal. I challenge you to look at situations that present themselves daily in your home where you can develop these two characteristics in your child. There may be more than you really had noticed when you start truly paying attention!