When parenting our children, we should always keep the end in mind. What does “the end” mean? Although parenting never really ends, because our children are always our children even when they are grown, most parenting experts define the end of parenting as the time when children move out and function on their own. Maybe they move into a college dorm, get their own apartment, or join the service. Maybe they get married or join the workforce. For some children, it happens at age 18. For others it may not be until they are 25 or older. Regardless of when it happens, the goal is to have children grow up, become increasingly mature and independent, be able to handle things on their own, and eventually move away from home. This column is adapted from an article by Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman.
We all want our kids to become young adults who are self-disciplined, self-sufficient, self-motivated, and self-responsible. I don’t know any parent whose goal is to raise a 30-year who lies around the house all day eating pizza and playing video games. Most parents want a young adult who goes off self-confidently and enthusiastically with verbal and other skills that enable him or her to work well with others as well as independently.
So what are we to do if we want to parent in this moment with the end in mind? Here are some suggestions.
1. Give children continuing choices beginning at an early age. “We are having juice for breakfast. You can choose the pink cup or the blue one.” “We are shopping for warm clothes. You can choose the sweatshirt with the hood or the jacket.”
2. Do not do for them what they can do for themselves. Teach them how to tie their shoes, zip their coats, feed themselves, set goals, monitor their allowance, and speak up for themselves. Self-sufficiency should be our goal as parents.
3. Allow them to learn from mistakes. Do not intervene unless the issue at hand is health or safety related. Let them make a poor choice, learn from it, and move on. Little mistakes now are better than big mistakes later. Teach your children to view mistakes as learning opportunities, and you do the same.
4. Debrief regularly. Children do not always learn from their experience. The real learning comes from processing their experience. “How can you use that information next time?” “What do you think the real lesson is here?” “What would you do differently next time?”
5. Do not save, rescue, bail them out, or give your children one more chance. Allow them to experience the legitimate, related, reasonable consequences of their choices and behaviors. Allowing children to come face-to-face with outcomes they created is one of the most loving things you can do as a parent. Do it with an open heart. It is an important gift you give your children.
6. Teach your children HOW to think rather than WHAT to think. You have no idea what problems they will face twenty years from now. Nor do you have any idea what the solutions might be. When you teach them WHAT to think today, you rob them of their ability to think now and in the future.
7. Unless it is a safety issue, refuse to parent for absolute obedience. Having obedient children might appear to work well for you when your children are little. However, when they get older, many children become obedient to their peer group, and that can lead to real problems.
8. Teach your children to listen to their inner voice. “Check it out inside, Jane.” “What does your gut tell you, Sam?” “What is that wise part within you saying to you right now, Robert?” Having a strong inner voice (or conscience) built on personal morals and ideals leads to integrity and greater resistance to peer pressure.
9. Teach your children a feelings vocabulary. Help your little ones learn about mad, sad, glad and scared. As you honor their feelings with attention and empathy, you will be increasing their emotional intelligence. You will also be insuring that they will be better able to recognize, express, and manage their feelings in appropriate ways as they get older and their feelings vocabulary increases.
10. Do not expect or insist on immediate behavior change. Watch for and celebrate successful steps in the right direction. Inch by inch is how children grow. Enjoy it.
Using your present parenting moments to do what is fast, easy, and comfortable for you is losing sight of parenting from the end first. With an eye on the future, invest the time in each current moment to build the foundation and path toward competent adulthood for your children.
Tom Bartley is a retired educator and currently is the Director of Success By 6 at the Family Support Council, 1529 Waring Road. He can be reached at P.O. Box 1707, Dalton, GA 30722; fax # 706-275-6542; or bartley10@windstream. For a copy of this article and more information about The Family Support Council, visit www.familysupportcouncil.org.