Are your kids self-reliant or do you think you are doing too much for them? Would you like to encourage your children to become more self-reliant? A job description looks like this for many parents:

Long term, energetic team player needed, for challenging permanent work in a busy and often chaotic environment. Responsibilities include cooking, cleaning, doing lots of laundry and helping with homework, sports and guitar practice. Wages – Nil!

Is it our role as parents to do so much for them -or could it be “preparing for separation”?

Preparing to separate can seem like a harsh reality, especially to parents of younger kids, who are still very dependent on them. But none of us wants our young adult to live off toast or 2 minute noodles when they leave home. It’s our job to pass on skills and values to our children, rather than just do stuff for them.

Why shouldn’t we do so much for our kids?

Research shows that kids who do things for themselves are less likely to be bullied. When children have more self-reliance there is less for us to do and we have more energy. I’ve never met a parent with too much time or energy. A teacher I know tells parents that every time they do something that their child could be doing they are robbing the child of the opportunity to do things for themselves.

How do I stop doing so much for my kids?

Teaching kids to be self-reliant can be frustrating for parents – the training process takes ages and kids make a lot of mistakes. Rules and encouragement are key ways to get kids into good habits. These skills, used in a firm and loving way, help to build a relationship in which your children are more likely to want to cooperate and do the right thing. The way to improve how we interact with our children comes down to the relationship we have with them. Nothing can happen in our homes unless we get cooperation.

  • Avoid nagging, a habit a lot of us are in, it’s not effective and it demotivates.
  • Link rules to values  – would it be fair for mum or dad to do all the work?
  • Start with small achievable goals, don’t pick the hardest area. Think setting the table, rather than cleaning the toilet.

We also use micro-skills, taught in our setting up for success class, to help keep kids on track. See the video here for the 3 stage approach – a key way to engage cooperation.

Story from a client:

A busy working mum who wanted to get her school-age children into a more organised morning routine used these approaches. Like most parents, she found that no matter what she did to get her children ready on time it seemed that they were dawdling along and not listening. By the time all the jobs were done everyone was stressed and often shouting. They were also rushing, and on especially trying days they were late. We worked on a plan to make mornings run more smoothly, including finding more time for mum to do what she needed to do for herself.

First, we added a new family rule. Monday – Thursday screens were put away (screens were allowed on weekends with the cut-off at 6pm on Sunday). There was a bit of resistance to this new rule but not as much as expected (this was a relief and a  surprise). Concentrating on this single step for a couple of weeks made sure it became a habit.

Next, we added an additional rule; shoes, bag and PE gear had to go in the same place every day. The children made their own checklist with what they needed to do to be ready in the morning, this meant less need for the mum to be as involved in small details.

Mum used a powerful skill called descriptive praise to encourage and motivate the kids. By paying attention to the good things the kids were already doing more self-reliant behaviour was encouraged. After the children brushed their teeth Mum noticed and mentioned;

“Your breath smells all minty and fresh.”

When the children did something to be helpful or self-reliant she said:

“Thanks for setting the table without me reminding you, I appreciate that.”

“You hung up your towel – I like the way you remembered our rule.”

When the children were on track this helped keep a cooperative mood and attitude going – it was way more effective and increased their motivation levels. It was easier for everyone to stick to the new rules and routine with less time nagging and shouting. The kids did most of the prep for the morning the night before. The next day involved less rushing and an incentive to get things done was that any time left over was free-time to read, play and pat the cat.

A really important part of the plan was that Mum set an alarm to get up 30 minutes earlier so she was ready in time. Fast forward to now and this family are in a more settled routine and mum is a whole lot calmer about being able to get through the next set of challenges.

What gets in the way?

Time – we  are too busy and we think that because we are time poor that we can’t try these new approaches. It’s kind of back the front thinking, our busy life-style means it’s more important to work on a strategy to break down these tasks into small, achievable chunks. We save time in the long run.

A couple of other things can stand in the way of making progress – we’re just much faster and better at doing things than our children are. True. This can also be tied up with an unrealistic expectation of what our children should be capable of. Look for small improvements over time.

Give your kids and yourself more time and practice using these really useful skills to get into these habits. Your kids will be doing much more for themselves in the future.Back pack boy

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