I’m continuing my series addressing each of Forbes 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders. A few weeks ago I talked about why we need to let children experience risk, and today I want to talk about why we shouldn’t be quick to jump in and rescue our kids too quickly.
There are times when a mother absolutely must intervene. Like when your preschooler finds the bamboo shishkabob sticks and starts using them to stab her little brother. Or when one child is keen to cross the road into oncoming traffic to get to the playground. Obviously, mothers are in the business of protecting their children from imminent and evident harm.
However, there are many times we swoop in like paratroopers to save the day when frankly, we should just butt out. Our children are not as slow or dim-witted as our behavior makes them out to be. They are able to resolve many situations to their liking without our help. In fact, in our home I’ve noticed the more I intervene, the more often they come running to me for “help.”
You know, like helping them decide how they should position the couch cushions on the floor so as to increase the likelihood they land on them when jumping off the couch.
1. Train at every opportunity.
If you’re always looking for opportunities (before the conflict) to train children on various things, you’ll be surprised how much they absorb and refer to when necessary. As life is happening be careful to explain good practices and bad ideas. Then, when they’re in a conflict or a pickle, let them sort it out. In fact, if you have already explained to them what to do in a given situation, you can simply remind them what to do if they scream for help. If you explain the hows and whys of things, they are often more equipped than you realize to solve a multitude of problems that come their way.
2. Be aware, but away.
If sibling play time often turns into sibling abuse time, tell them beforehand what you expect. You don’t want fighting, biting, kicking or hitting and they will get what’s coming to them if they do it. Then you exit. Don’t leave them utterly unsupervised if they aren’t self-controlled enough to handle that privilege, but float around here or there so you are aware of what’s happening even if they don’t see you.
At the first sign of “mom, help” or “mom, he did this” just stay out of it. By now you know the difference between painful cries and emotional cries with whining. Give them a long time to sort out their own issues. I’ve often found that my daughter and son have conflicts that reach a crescendo. They both become very unhappy for a minute or two, then it’ll diffuse on its own they’ll be laughing and singing again. If I intervene too soon the rhythm of the playtime is interrupted.
3. Let them spend time alone.
I’m a big proponent of independent play time. Oh, that sounds so technical. Basically, kids do well to spend some time completely on their own playing with toys without their siblings and without you. Time alone builds self-confidence, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Which shape block goes in the hole? How can I get this dress on my Barbie? Without you hovering over them they are quite happy to give things a go on their own, but if you are around they’ll take the easy way out and ask for help.
Alone time also teaches cause and effect. When babies are in the playpen, they learn what happens when they pitch a toy outside. It’s gone. Out of reach. As children play alone (and this doesn’t mean off somewhere unsafe or totally unsupervised) they become confident in themselves, they begin to trust their own ability to complete a task to their liking, and they get used to problem-solving on their own.
4. They’ll learn responsibility.
Often we intervene to prevent them from having a negative consequence. When the consequence is a severe one, this is probably a good idea. When the consequence would bring a nice learning opportunity with it, sometimes it’s best to let the situation unfold without intervention.
Your son has an ice cream cone and he’s running around. You warn him that he should sit down and eat because if he isn’t careful his ice cream will fall off. He ignores you, runs away screaming, and his ice cream falls onto the pavement. You could have gotten up and ran after him or forced him to sit down. This would make him angry yet ensure he doesn’t spill his ice cream. Or you could let him learn what happens when he does what he did. Children need to learn to take responsibility for their choices and deal with the fallout (in appropriate developmental stages, obviously) because that is life as an adult.
5. Let high emotions diffuse.
There are many ways to skin a cat, but I’ve found that tantrums and extremely high emotional mood swings our children display are best ignored. I love listening to my children talk or share their frustrations, emotions and feelings. I do not like listening to screaming, arguing with me over a non-negotiable issue, or yelling in disobedience. I will not go to them, hug them or force them to be calm. I will not give in to their whims so they’ll quiet down.
We’ll either completely ignore them or we’ll kindly but firmly move them to another area of the house where they can have their meltdown and the rest of us can carry on in peace. Personally, I don’t recommend inserting myself in the middle of a tantrum, and certainly no attempts to reason will work. After the emotions are diffused, then we’ll talk about it, resolve the situation if possible, hug and go on about our business. Too much intervention at inappropriate times will be fruitless and discouraging.
Part of our job as mothers is to protect our children. I don’t take this lightly and usually err on the side of a paranoid parent. However, I firmly believe that the more I intervene before they have a chance to problem-solve, the more I’m preventing them from becoming independent and capable adults.
My uncle once said his goal was to raise resourceful and resilient daughters. By the time they were teenagers, he said he was pretty sure he could drop them off in North Carolina with $5 and know they’d get back home to Florida with no problem. I’m still not sure if he was joking or not, but in all honesty, I think that’s an admirable goal to shoot for.
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