Are you giving your kids room to grow?

Worldwide studies suggest that key attributes for successful development in children are independence and resilience. So how do we help our children to master these skills? As a parent, are your routines helping or hindering this growing up process?

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The Things We Steal From Children

I was inspired by the wisdom of a poem written by Dr John Edwards – a world-renowned educator from Australia – and his wife Sandra Russell, entitled, The Things We Steal From Children. The poem is targeted at teachers, and suggests that we do too much for the children in our classes. When teachers make all the decisions and do all the thinking and leading in a classroom, students can be deprived of learning opportunities. This poem made me realise that good teachers, with the best of intentions, may actually be robbing children of the chance to grow and develop.

The parallels to parenting

It also made me wonder how all of this applies to parenting. Of course, the parallels are strong. We want children to develop independence and resilience. However, with the best of intentions, our helping can sometimes get in the way. Doing too much for our children may hinder the development of resilience as they may not get into the practice of persevering and working through problems independently. Too often I hear conversations at school that sound like this –

Teacher: “John, where are your togs?”
John: “My mum didn’t put them in my bag.”

Teacher: “Silei, where is your library book?”
Silei: “My dad forgot…”

John Edwards asks us, as educators, to think about what we’re ‘stealing’ from students in the classroom. As parents, what do we do for our children that they could be doing for themselves? Are we giving them opportunities to grow, or are we doing everything for them, because it’s a lot easier in the moment?

Are we helping or hindering?

A good way to figure out whether we are helping or hindering, is to make a list. Write down all the things that you currently do for your children, and then see whether they could be doing some of these things for themselves. For example, packing their lunches, driving them to school when it is only a short walk, or cleaning up after them. All of this is within reason – of course you need to ascertain what is realistic and what is ridiculous.

We also ‘steal’ from children when we don’t give them opportunities to work through problems by themselves. If your child has come to you with an issue, fight the urge to just make it alright or fix it. Instead, try phrases like, “What have you already tried?”, “What could be some of your solutions?” Then allow them to work through the situation, inviting them to let you know how they get on or to come back and talk if none of the options work. It always works better if you send them away with back-up support. That way you are promoting independence and reinforcing the subtle messaging of, “You can do this. I trust you.”

As adults, we need to fight the temptation to anticipate problems and fix them before our children encounter a challenge. Expect that they can do the task at hand, offer your support and give them opportunities to grow. By adopting this way of engaging with your children you will be ensuring that they are developing resilience every day.

Resilience-building tips

  • Praise your child and reinforce their own self-belief.
  • Use vocabulary like perseverance, independence and resilience with your children.
  • Encourage your child to believe in their own abilities and work towards personal best efforts.
  • Encourage your child to give their full effort, then take a break and go back and do 10 more minutes to complete the task.
  • Share personal stories of facing tough challenges and how you persevered (both when you were young and now that you’re an adult).
  • Let your child get bogged down occasionally and have to work towards a solution.
  • Encourage your child to ask for help if they need it.
  • Inspire and encourage your child with uplifting examples from the news – people who have had to persevere and show resilience despite the odds.
  • Praise your child when they push through and put in the extra effort.
  • Encourage the older siblings in your family to give the younger family members opportunities for independence too.

We want children to be confident in their abilities. We want them to strive and do their best, knowing that if they persevere through challenges they can achieve great results. Ultimately, we want them to believe in themselves. Parents have a key role in developing this self-belief in their children – creating opportunities for their kids to grow and learn every day with support and encouragement.

It’s never too late to set some new routines – expect that your child can do it, encourage them in their endeavours and don’t be surprised when they far exceed your predictions of what is possible. The result? A more independent child and far more relaxed parents!

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.