Believe it or not, humans are innately designed to want to learn skills that support independence. This includes your children (even though they may not show it.)
Before you say – No way, my kid has no interest in doing anything on their own! let’s take a quick throwback to when your child was a precious infant.
Your little cherub started his/her quest for independence as early as 4-months old when she persisted in flipping herself over and was greeted with cheers from her onlookers. She mastered her first hurdle of body control. “She rolled over!” You clapped, smiled and squeezed that little baby because you were simply overjoyed from her accomplishment. She was becoming more like you with every day.
And then, when the same little cherub gets on her two feet, you applauded her will, determination, and perseverance to get off that floor and walk like the other humans in the house. Photos, videos, and mini moment celebrations took place with each of those first steps. It was exciting and your babe certainly felt your encouragement as she decided to keep mastering these life skills of survival. She had no idea she was limited by her size or brain capacity and you didn’t hold her back from shooting for the moon.
Moving ahead, your precious cherub is walking and exploring and getting into all sorts of mischief. What was applause turns into:
“nope – not there”, and
“no, can’t do that”, and
“you’re not big enough”
You get the point. In our attempt to protect our kids, their opportunities for independence, not to mention their drive begins to get squeezed out by our need to control and keep our babies safe. Normal? Sure. But…
By 18 months, we have a child who is frustrated, cries, and whines to be picked up because we’ve undone their drive for independence.
We’ve scolded, we’re telling them ‘no’, we think they’re in the way of us getting things done.
So, let’s fast forward to 3 years, 7 years, and holy heaven – 14 YEARS! when we suddenly think it’s time for the kids to start helping around the house and learning some life skills already. (And you’re right!)
The kids have been taught from a wee age to believe life is dangerous and trying to keep up with mom, dad and an older brother is just too tough, so they begin thinking “why bother?”. We convince them learning new things is too difficult and since you keep making their lunches, cleaning their bedrooms, scrubbing their teeth, packing their bags, checking their homework, and yes – filling out job applications, they resign themselves to sitting on the sidelines of their own life, while you orchestrate it for them with a big fat grin on your face that says “look, isn’t this just great”?. (Eeek!)
And when we finally realize we’re doing too much, we have scared them out of trying even the simplest of tasks for fear of failure, criticism, correction or judgement. Picture Eeyore here with his head down and a defeetest look on his face and you’ve got a glimpse of how your kiddo is feeling after all your well-meaning “help”. They’ve lost their confidence in mastering their life skills on their own.
When I share this scenario with parents in my classes, I feel the energy get sucked from the room. I know it’s hard to hear. But here’s what I know: humans are innately designed to want to learn skills that guarantee they will become independent, autonomous human beings – just like you! Now is the time to begin to reinvigorate their curiosity and their drive for learning new skills. It’s entirely possible. I’ve seen it time and time again.
But how can I begin the process when so much time has slipped by? Am I doomed?
1. ASSESS: Take some time to assess what you’re kids are doing already. Even the littlest things. I bet they’re doing things you’re not noticing. Appreciations go a LONG way here.
2. CELEBRATE: Getting the pants pulled on for a 2-year old is like rolling over for the first time and should be noticed! And when the teenagers are getting out the door on time after spending the night studying – that qualifies as a success. Whatever they’re doing already needs to be acknowledged. Remember, they’re used to hearing what not to do and they’re needing some reassurement they are capable.
3. PLAN: Make a list of things you’d like your child to learn, and start training. For the little kids, keep the list to yourself. We’re not talking about a new sheriff coming into town, pronouncing, “Things are going to be different around here pipsqueak!”. One thing at a time. Slowly, add more to the list. And please do yourself a favor – make the training FUN!
For the adolescents and teens, do them a favor: Apologize for doing so much for them. Yep. Make amends. Share the reasons you’d like them to learn these critical life skills and ask them which ones they’d like to conquer first. Laundry? Grocery shopping? Making dinner? Paying bills? Start in an area they have a natural interest and spend quality time working on the task together.
4. Show SUPPORT. Give it time, be patient and for heaven’s sake be consistent. If you say you’re going to work on teaching your child how to unload the dishwasher, don’t do it without them. If you make a date to make dinner with your teen, stay true to your commitment. Your actions are much more powerful than your words and the kids know when you’re serious. So, get serious!
A Final Word of Advice:
If the kids resist helping around the house, remind them it’s your job to get them ready to leave when they’re 18 years old. You’re going to need to channel that inner infant and show the will and persistence to get these kids trained. When you lead by example, the kids will know you’re serious and will start to see the importance of taking on more responsibility.
I’ve seen hundreds of families raise a confident, capable, connected grown-ups. There’s no reason you can’t do it, too.
Need more resources to help with training?
Check out this great post that shows how to create a Timeline for Training.
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