As parents, it’s our natural inclination to protect our children. We want the best for them, of course! The best schools with the best teachers, the best food, the best friends and the best toys. Who wouldn’t want that for their precious offspring?
The fact is, our children are so much more capable of providing for themselves than we generally give them credit for. Fast forward to your child’s future. Think of the adults you know. Would you rather spend time with the ones who expect everyone around them to do their work for them or the ones who take life by the horns and go for it?
Ever hear of the terrible twos? Well, as a parent, you know it’s not just for two year olds! Most of those tantrums are really not just meant to drive you crazy, they’re mostly about the growing need for independence. They’re amazing little sponges! They love you taking care of them, but they hate feeling like they can’t do it themselves. One minute they stick their snack in your face expecting you to feed them, the next minute they want to put their own coat on. They learn incredibly quickly how to do it themselves if you expect them to to do it and you let them! They’ll also be so much happier to accept your help when they really need it when given them the chance to do it alone.
The hardest part is taking the time to let them do things by themselves. How often are you in a hurry and your two-year-old wants to walk instead of ride in the stroller? Or your four -year-old wants to button every button on their dress when you’re late for work? Of course there are times when you have to be the boss and the situation calls for you to put your foot down. Consider first, which will take longer, letting them do it or the tantrum they will have if you insist on doing it? And chances are, letting them do things on their own most of the time, will help them accept your help at the times when you really need to help them.
With older children, the stakes get higher. At what age do you let them walk alone to the corner store? Have a cell phone? Use the oven or the stove to cook their own meal? The best answer I’ve come up with is, it depends on the child. Start small and work your way up to the big things. Let them walk to the corner store while you watch for the first couple of times, then tell them you’re timing them, then let them go alone. Let them hold their own house key and open the door for you. Let them walk home from school while talking to you the whole way on their new cell phone! Our big kids today have spent their whole lives being watched by adults every minute of every day! Most of us grew up very differently. We learned to be independent early in life. We didn’t have after school programs every day or summer camp for the whole summer. We rode our bikes to the pool and hung out with our friends and problem solved out own problems and created our own life. We didn’t have cell phones, and our parents still trusted us to get off the bus, play with our friends after school, get our own snack and wait for them to get home.
Kids are expected to be self sufficient in kindergarten and know how to read in first grade, complete their own homework and by the time they get to middle school, take city buses around town by themselves and be without after school programs. Yet in today’s society, we’re raising children who are more dependent on us then ever before! We make play dates for them and monitor every minute of their social lives and check every bit of their homework. So, who’s helping who now?