By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
In our world of quick problem-solving (thanks Google), it can be easy for parents to forget that the main goal of parenting is to raise their children to be independent. Particularly with the rise of attachment parenting and gentle parenting ideas and their focus on being child-led, it can sometimes be difficult for parents to place their own agenda on their child.
As a child therapist at heart, I can’t tell you how important it is to have some goals in mind as parents. Not necessarily goals such as “My kid will go to x elite school,” or “My child will get a scholarship for x sport,” but something like, “Our family values kindness and working hard to solve problems.” Goals, or family values, are important to me because they can help us focus our energy and decision-making as parents when more difficult situations arise in our families.
When I meet with parents, we often discuss the values they are trying to instill into their child’s lives and use these values to help guide parenting choices. These conversations are usually about prioritizing something that is more long-term in development over short-term parenting solutions. A prime example is facilitating your child to solve their problems.
As a parent, it can be very tempting to dive in and support or even solve your kid’s problems, particularly if your child experiences problems as very frustrating and meltdown worthy, as many of them do, especially while they are young. It is very understandable for parents to get in the habit of doing too much for their kids and to keep doing it out of habit until they are far past the age of needing parents to reduce their involvement.
From a young age, I think it is important to work on scaffolding our child. Scaffolding means giving them just enough support to make problems solvable rather than making them easy to solve. I believe that most kids need to experience the struggle of working hard at something (math, legos, friendship challenges, sports, etc.) before accomplishing it so that they gain confidence, frustration tolerance, and feelings of competence from experience. If parents solve the problem or support them too much, kids never feel capable and develop less emotional resilience. In fact, they often, unfortunately, feel that their parents are helping as they couldn't have done it on their own and can’t tolerate feeling frustrated or challenged.
Kids who do not feel competent often become young adults who struggle to engage in “adulting” and other independent tasks that are part of growing up. They can even become adults who struggle to live independently or push themselves to take risks and move forward in life. Emotionally, they can become anxious or avoidant of any unpleasant emotion, leading them to choose less healthy coping skills.
Here are some guidelines that could help you find a path to giving your child more independence at any age. Keep in mind that these are just ideas. Feel free to come up with your own as long as they are age-appropriate expectations! Additionally, when you are delegating or showing them how to do these tasks, be sure to communicate that you have faith in their ability to do what you are asking. If they protest doing it themselves, try not to get too flustered and calmly let them know they can do it.
This list of goals is certainly not an exhaustive list; just a few ideas to help get you started! If your child is older, simply review the list and gradually add tasks. Often, kids whose parents have been more involved will resist doing things on their own either because they are unsure if they can do it or because they enjoy having someone do things for them. While this is understandable, it is really important to let them know you realize that they are more capable than you were giving them credit for and that you believe they can do everything you ask of them. You can validate their frustration or fear and express that you have faith in them. You can coach them through tasks initially but do your best to avoid taking anything back on after you have handed it off to them. Remember, our goal is to build their feelings of competence and capability!
Check out our last blog in this parenting series: Parenting Tip #7: There is not one right way to parent. Also, join our newsletter today for more information about future parenting courses that Erica is developing! You don’t want to miss this!
At Thrive, we take a positive, client-centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy we offer in person and telehealth via video sessions, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
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