It is difficult for us as parents to sit back and watch our children struggle. So, whether we are inclined to be helicopter parents, lawnmower parents, or snowplow parents, we want to protect our children. But, there is a difference between helping and hindering. I would like to share five things you can do to replace hindering with truly helping your children become more independent and resourceful.
Be the Example1. The first thing is to always ask yourself: Have I explicitly taught my child how to do something that I have asked them to do? Have I modeled this for them sufficiently? (i.e. I do, we do, you do.) This will help you to discern if a child has been prepared for something.
For instance, if you want to encourage your teen to go with friends into D.C., take them with you and walk through buying a Metro card, how to figure out which lines to take, what to do if you get lost, etc. Then, let them go. Teach them to pay attention to their surroundings.
Teach Them to Ask Good Questions2. Teach your children to ask good questions. For instance, saying, “I don’t get it” or “I can’t do it” are not questions. They are declarations of surrender. Instead, ask your children to show you what they know. Ask them, “what have you done to try?” If they have math homework they are stuck on, ask them to show you what they know and where they are stuck. Don’t rescue them. At Dominion we teach our children and parents that when your child gets stuck on homework, don’t rescue them. Ask them to show what they know, and when they get stuck and can’t go any further, stop there so that the teacher can see where the breakdown is to better instruct them. They will not be penalized for incomplete homework as long as they have done their best.
Praise the Process3. Try to praise your child’s process rather than saying, “You are so smart” or “Here, let me help you.” Instead, observe how they problem solve and praise them for something specific you observed in their problem solving.
Tell Them “Not Yet”4. Help them to be more comfortable with struggle and failure. We say to our students when they get something wrong, “you don’t get it yet, but you will. Let’s try again.” “Not yet” communicates that the potential for them to succeed is possible. We also say to our students, “I like that mistake you made because it shows me where you are getting stuck.”
Give Them Phrases to Use5. We as adults need to measure our reactions to our children’s struggles. What is really a low-level issue versus a high-level issue. When your child comes home from school and tells you something, try not to immediately intervene. Ask them lots of questions, such as “how can you talk to your teacher about that?” Give them some phrases to use. Often children just need the words and practice saying them in a mirror.
I remember a couple of sixth-grade girls who were bothered by a boy in their class. They kept going home and telling their parents. The parents were getting upset and after talking, I met with the girls. They had not explicitly or forcefully told the boy what they wanted him to stop doing. So we practiced what to say and how to say it. “Joe, I don’t like it when you do ______, and I want you to stop doing it now.” The girls would say it very sheepishly, and I would say, “Say it like you mean it and look them in the eye.” The girls practiced at home and did it. Guess what? The boy stopped. He needed to hear explicitly what their expectations were, and he honored them.
These are just a few things to help your children become more independent and confident. They need success in solving their own problems, and the more success they have, the less anxious they will be. And the less they will need us. Which may actually be our next problem: they won't need us as much.