What do toddlers, pre-teens, and teens all have in common?
They cry out for independence. “Don’t help me!” “I can do it myself!” “I’m not your little girl/boy anymore!”
They are not wrong. Kids can do so much more that we think they can. So how do we know when to step in and when to let failure happen? How do you teach accountability and responsibility to children who think they know it all already? Here are 6 tips I use in my household.
1. Pick your battles: I hate messes. Call it a pet-peeve or OCD or what you like, but I like a clean, neat and tidy home. My siblings (sorry guys) growing up and kiddo now, have other ideas of what home should feel like. I learned early on as a parent, to pick my battles with my very strong-willed* child. Now, when the room doesn’t get cleaned, I shut the door (out of sight out of mind) and my kid knows he doesn’t get to watch TV, play video games, play outside, create anything until the chores are done. It has created a much more harmonious environment.
2. Offer Choices: When I was younger, my parents divided chores by age (ignored gender rules). Occasionally they would re-arrange as family dynamics changed. I liked this. But recently came across a “Chore Market.” (This works very similar to Silent Butler). What is that? Much like the Stock Market, a Chore Market is when your children bid on chores they will do. The catch? Lowest bid wins and that is now their allowance. This is a great way to start teaching financial responsibility, family responsibility, work ethic, and start the conversation on investments as they get older.
3. Provide Flexibility: Flexibility is a key to success. This prevents kids from thinking they must be perfect all the time. Perfection can be rehabilitating. So, teach flexibility with deadlines. One of my favorite practices in home school is offering a Fun Friday – this is a five-week school scheduled offered to be completed in four days, at their pace. We do not set days for subjects to be taught, my son gets a weekly schedule and he can finish it at his own pace. Some very motivated weeks, he does two weeks in one, and some weeks there is carry over to Fun Friday. But, he has the flexibility to finish his tasks as he needs.
4. Support Growth: This one is hard. We always want to be the protection for our kids. It is nature. Reality is – we will not always be there for our kids. We must support them. When I was five, my mom took me on a mile walk from my house to my kindergarten class. That was it. After that walk, I was on my own for getting to and from school. As my younger siblings joined, I became responsible for them as well. Different times, I know. But, really, not all that different. Teaching kids how to play in the neighborhood, get to and from school, and ultimately fail at school or chores teaches independence and that we are all human and make mistakes.
5. Encourage healthy risk: My son loves to cook! But, he is also easily distracted. But, when he asked to learn to cook his own breakfast at age seven, who was I to stop him? So, he learned (first very closely supervised) how to make his own eggs. This has now become gourmet eggs, sausage, and fruit in the morning. After six months (I could have let go of the reigns sooner), he took over his own breakfast. He knows makes all his meals except our family dinner. But he also catches our family dinner often – taking responsibility for providing for our family.
6. Embrace Mistakes: We are not perfect! Your kid will be less perfect than you. Embrace the mistake. Everyone spills milk. Everyone burns a dish here and there. Everyone skips to the back of the book at least once for the answers. The trick is not to dwell on the negative and failure but to use that to encourage growth and learning. As Einstein put it so well, “Failure is success in progress.”
Our kids are miraculous beings. Our job is to help them see that – without inflating their ego. Finding a balance between independence and responsibility is hard. But possible. The more we practice these steps the easier they become. The more we encourage independence in a healthy way, the more our children will learn problem-solving, critical thinking, and fundamentals of life.
How have you found this balance? What has worked? What has failed?
*If you have a strong-willed child, like mine, I really found Parenting a Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven 5 week for parents of 2 to 6-year-olds by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long to be very insightful.