I’m not going to sit on my “expert” pedestal and look down on your parenting. I’m not going pretend that what you read here will be equivalent to waving a magic wand and making everything so easy…
Parenthood is not an easy gig. It’s a messy roller coaster ride of pride, sheer agony, and unconditional love. You know you can’t always be perfect, and I know it too.
Here, I’ll give you some ways that you can work with your kids so that they become contributing members to society who are able to take responsibility for their actions.
Just some ideas…
We’re going to talk about how you not only get to keep control over your kids, but how that control can be used to their benefit and yours (without them realizing it!).
I have conversations with parents who say they don’t know what else to do. They feel like they’ve tried everything and they can’t get their child to do what they ask.
They panic because they fear their child will turn into a lazy couch potato who won’t move out until their 45 years old.
So, what can you do to prevent couch potato syndrome and promote initiative?
Let Their Problem Be Their Problem
“Mom, I’m failing Spanish class because my teacher is so disorganized and stupid! He never tells us what workbook pages he wants done and then gives us bad grades randomly! I don’t know what to do. It’s so unfair!”
I bet those Mama (or Papa) Bear instincts are bubbling up, aren’t they? What should you do when your tween or teen is unjustly receiving poor grades due to a teacher’s neglect?
Take a moment and let your child feel the discomfort of their situation. Resist all temptation to give them a solution, email the teacher, or take their pain away.
Simply take a breath and say, “That sounds awful! What are you gonna do?”
The reality is that 7th grade Spanish class is not your problem at all. It’s your child’s problem.
Don’t believe me? As you know, their grade at this point won’t have any lasting impact on their life. But how they respond to this situation will teach them how to deal with failure in the future, even when you aren’t there.
You have an opportunity to teach them about navigating difficult moments before it matters.
Don’t take it away from them.
Avoid and Ignore Texts During the School Day
This is a tough one… Remember when you were growing up? Can you imagine having a device in which you could contact any family member within seconds while you were going to school?
One day you might get a text from your teen saying “I forgot my math homework!” or “I forgot my clothes for soccer practice!”
Once again, this is your child’s problem and not yours.
“But he will get a bad grade and he won’t be able to play in the game his weekend!” Still not your problem.
Here’s the thing. When your child reaches out to you during the day, they’re hoping you’ll bail them you. You have to resist the bail out. That is if you want them to become responsible.
Wait 5-10 minutes before you respond to the text (so they are forced to begin thinking critically for themselves). And when you do respond say something like, “I’m sorry honey. That must be stressful for you.” Or “Darn.” Or “Bummer.”
One of my favorite parenting techniques is called Love and Logic. The Love part stands for loving your children so much that you will set and enforce limits and do so with empathy and compassion.
The Logic part represents allowing your children to make mistakes that teach them about the link between their choices and their quality of life.
If we let our children fail at the smaller things in life (such as forgetting a homework assignment) they will be better prepared to manage adult things like arriving to work on time.
If our children know we are just a text away. If we allow them to lean on us too much for answers, they will not be able to think for themselves. They won’t know how to think through a situation that might confront them such as drugs or alcohol because they will be accustomed to you providing that for them.
When you respond to your child’s situation with empathy, you’re validating their feelings and empowering them to learn from the consequences of their own decisions.
When you respond with logic, you give them the chance to learn what the real world is like.
If you rush to their aid, you are robbing them of low or no cost lessons that would have taught them what happens when they mess up.
If you want them living in your garage at 48, then by all means keep treating them like a baby.
Resist a Wake Up Call
Starting in middle school (and definitely in high school) your child should be waking themselves up with an alarm clock. I speak to many parents who battle with their teens in the mornings to get up and ready for school.
If your teen graduates high school without knowing how to wake himself up, how do you think he’ll do away at college or living on his own?
Sure, they might have to leave without breakfast here and there because they chose to snooze. But that’s their choice and they will experience the logical consequence of that choice (being hungry until lunch).
Plus, one less thing for you to do! You’ve got enough on your plate already, why add to it with arguments about getting to school?
Encourage Them to Plan Ahead
“Oh no! I forgot I have a big history project due TOMORROW!” Now your child is in a bind. She needs $40 worth of supplies that you don’t have lying around the house such as a science board and a food item representing the culture they’re studying.
What to do? Please do not drop everything and run to the store.
Tell your daughter about the family plans this evening. “Wow, honey, that’s unfortunate. We have to pick your brother up from basketball practice and then drop dinner off at your Grandma’s. What do you want to do?”
Again, give her time to think… You may have to sit through a tantrum of screaming and yelling. But it needs to set in that planning ahead for large projects is important.
If you don’t, you deprive your child the opportunity to think of a solution on their own.
“I know! I still have some leftover poster board… maybe I’ll make a smaller version of a science board and make something out of the ingredients we have at home.” Smile with pride, because you just witnessed your daughter improvise and you didn’t have to do a thing.
One way to prevent this type of situation is to have regular family meetings. Ask your kids if they have any projects coming up and will need help purchasing supplies. Let them know you need to do it on your schedule and not theirs.
Care Less Than They Do
Okay, so I know internally this is extremely challenging, but you have to at least be willing to pretend on the outside and give the impression to your child that you are un-phased by the coming consequences.
For example, instead of lecturing your son about not filling out a college scholarship application on time, instead of reminding him for the 1000th time that your not paying for all of his college tuition and how scholarships would help him… shrug your shoulders.
Yes, shrug them.
When you check in and ask, “Did you get that application in dear?” and he says, “No. I forgot.” Shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well. I’m sure you’ll find a way to pay for college. You always figure something out.” and move on. Don’t say anything else.
You’ve just pulled a critical-thinking ninja move! Not only have you prevented him from arguing with you and rolling his eyes at every reason why it makes sense to apply for scholarships, but you’ve also provided space for him to think… learn… take responsibility and grow!
When you notice that you’re putting more effort into something than your child is, take a step back and ask how you can care less, speak less, or lecture less.
Your child will have no choice but to start caring about what happens to them! They’ll be so confused about why you’re not lecturing them that they’ll begin to feel the burden of responsibility that you’ve been carrying for them all of this time.
It will be placed back on their shoulders, and the best part is you will see them take action because of it.
Follow Through on Consequences
This is perhaps the most important piece to remember when you’re implementing all of the other strategies.
Whatever the situation is, you must follow through. Empty threats only lead to more frustration on all sides.
The trick is creating consequences that are realistic for you to accomplish. Don’t threaten to kick your kid out of the house or take all TV and dessert away for 1 month for not cleaning up her room.
First of all, even toddlers are smart enough to know the difference between and empty and actual threat. Second of all, you need to pick a consequence that you’ll really follow through on.
Avoid picking a consequence that will punish both you and your child, because it is less likely that you will do it.
It doesn’t matter what you choose for a consequence (so long as it’s not abusive in nature) as long as you choose something that you know you will follow through on.
If you aren’t able to keep your word with your children, not only will they respect you less, but you’re also depriving them of an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to learn that their bad choices lead to negative consequences.
If you want your child to grow into a capable and functional adult, these tips can help you guide your child in that direction.
Resist the urge to hover over them…
Seek out teachable moments…
And your child’s confidence will soar.
With your help, they will grow up knowing that they can create their own solutions, learn, and thrive.