Tracey Shipley
Youth, family and addictions counselor/creative therapist

Helping Our Kids to Grow Up

There is nothing we love more as parents then doing things for our kids.  It’s basically what our job has been since they were born. So how do we know when to stop, what to stop and how to gradually step back?  It’s a delicate dance and it can’t be done all at once.  I like to refer to the story of the Three Little Pigs.  According to the version (there are many) I was raised with, the little pigs did not want to leave their mother’s home, she had to force them out. The vision I have of her is one of the Italian mother who does everything for her children, teens then young adults.  The result: In Italy the average ages kids leave their parent’s home is between 30-40. And the later they leave the closer by they tend to live to their parents home.

Whereas close family connections are a blessing, young adults relying on their parents to support their daily living is obviously unhealthy. The question is what part do we play in creating this unhealthy situation?  And what message does it give our kids when we do for them what they can do for themselves?

I’ve been learning a lot about the way the Montessori kindergartens operate and it’s fascinating. The program is based on the belief that the more the children do for themselves the more they learn.  Add to that the important fact that self esteem is based on self pride. It surprised me to hear the amount of trust the Montessori kindergartens give to the kids. They traditionally use glass plates and cups that they clear on their own, learn to use sharp scissors and regular knives, climb trees and assist each other, the list goes on. Basically children are given the message that they are trusted making it natural that they can trust themselves.

As we see with this kindergarten program, it begins at a very young age. Of course it’s easier to do our children’s dishes, pick up their toys, do their laundry, cook their food, etc as opposed to finding a way to encourage them to do it on their own.  However the price both of us pay is far more damaging. Our kids grow up thinking it is our job to take care of them, that we don’t believe they are capable of taking care of themselves and they can get the message that they truly are incapable of functioning on a basic level.  Our message of “Don’t worry honey I got this” is not a loving and helpful one if it gives out these negative messages.

Every time we take away the opportunity for our children and teens to accomplish things on their own we rob them of their chance to build up their self esteem.  Let Them turn to Us and say “I got this!” at the same time learning that even if they fail they can try and try again and we will be there to encourage them never to give up.

The timeline we assign to our kids independence will always be individually based.  When do we expect our kids to begin cleaning up after themselves, cook for themselves, decide how they will get their needed exercise, learn how to budget their own money, decide how they want to live their lives in reference to religious practice, negotiate their curfew or bedtime, etc?  The sooner the better!

When parenting both children and teens the more information that is given over in writing the better.  Kids need to know what is expected of them ahead of time as well as what the consequences are should they refuse.  We never want to come up with consequences on the spot.  At the end of the day the kids have to be the ones to decide what they are willing to do or if they are simply willing to accept the consequences either Natural of Applied.

Natural consequences are the ones that happen regardless of our input and actions such as: smoking and their health is impaired, jay walking and possibly getting hurt, not doing their homework and getting a bad grade, going to bed late and not being able to get up for school or work, loosing or breaking their toy, phone, etc. and no longer having them to use.  Applied or Logical consequences are those We render to our kids.  If they don’t do their homework they can’t go out with friends, if they go to bed too late because they are on their phone or computer they get them taken away, if they break something they must replace it, etc.

For Logical or applied consequences to be effective they must be related to the “offense” as well as follow the following guidelines suggested by Dr. Jane Nelson.

  1. Related – the consequence should be related to the misbehavior.
  2. Respectful – the consequence should be administered respectfully, that is without anger, shame, blame or lectures.
  3. Reasonable – the consequence must not be seen as harsh by parent or child.
  4. Revealed in advance – consequences for misbehavior should be established in advance so that parents and children know what to expect. The most effective consequences are made with input from children.

This last point is very important.  I found it interesting that when I worked with families on household contracts the child/teen usually came up with far more severe consequences than the parents would have suggested.

Also beyond rendering consequences it is important for us to help our kids figure out what is going on that had them make that decision.  The negative behavior may be acted upon for many reasons such as a need for any kind of attention positive or negative; a child screaming for help who wants to have his issues noticed, actually anything can be the cause. Helping them vet the underscoring reason will be helpful to both of you.

Typical with parents is the desire to force our kids to make the right choice.  The end result is a power struggle where no one wins.  It’s very hard to not step in to push our kids to make the right choice.  We can share our opinion once especially if we are asked for direction but beyond once is controlling (which I am sure we are all guilty of- I know I am).  Then their decisions become one of pleasing us (should they listen to our nagging) and not one of benefitting their learning process of making the right choices for themselves or learning the lessons of suffering consequences.  At the end of the day parents will find childrearing far more enjoyable if they focus on guiding and facilitating their children’s choices, detaching with love and trusting that allowing them to make both the right and wrong choices will help them grow.

About the Author
Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor specializing in addictions and family communication. She was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1984 to continue her studies in Art Therapy. She moved back to the US in 1989 and began working in a drug rehab for teens where she was trained while she worked as a primary counselor. She moved back to Israel in 1996 and continued her work in addictions at the Jerusalem Methadone Clinic for a total of 9 years. She initiated projects for the children of the addicts at the Center, for Ethiopian Teens and a Sober Music Bar for teens and young adults: Sobar Jerusalem.
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