Sep 29, 2013

I am NOT your dancing monkey... defining self-reliance in children.

Sometime last year, I started a series {About Becoming a Parent of Excellence} that hasn't been much of a series... because I stopped writing it. In case you missed it (and since only 40 people read the first post... you probably missed it) You can catch up here

Simply put, my husband and I are all about intentional, purposeful or "deliberate" parenting. We are not perfect parents... but we are very methodical about how we parent. {Which translates well into blog posts.} I believe there are around an even dozen parenting goals we are striving for. This is one of them.
We intentionally force enable our children to be self-reliant.

I do not want children who quickly run out of things to do, "MOM! I'm BORED!" and depend on me to 1. entertain them (i.e. be their dancing monkey), or 2. Micromanage their free time, or worse yet 3. For them to depend solely on television or gaming consoles to keep them occupied. 

I want my children to crave new experiences, to be confident in their abilities, and capable of making good choices, even when I am not hovering over them.

So, what does encouraging "self-reliance" look like?

Encouraging self reliance in children IS providing them with age appropriate opportunities so they can try new things.

I can still remember the first time my son (at age 9) reached up and got the chewable vitamins off the top of the fridge, opened the "child proof" container and gave one to his sister and took one for himself.

It was both terrifying and enlightening.

I had never considered that he could do that. Nor did I realize that he could follow a recipe on a box of macaroni and cheese and make it with very little input (though vigilant supervision) from me.

Your children are capable of so many things. Possibly some things you have never considered. I think it's the first child that is normally held back a little, because we don't know what is age-appropriate, and then the subsequent children are freed up to do it "all".

{Check out this list of age appropriate chores and skills for some ideas}

Encouraging self-reliance in children IS NOT neglect or laziness.

Defined, neglect is to give little or no attention to your child or to not provide for the basic needs of your child on an ongoing basis.

Every family is different, every parent is different and the way each family system works is different. Therefore, please take what I say here with a grain of salt. Understand that my opinion of what "neglect" is comes from three sources. 1. What the law says, 2. What a random bunch of child development experts and social workers think and 3. My and my husband's own personal consciences.

Sometimes, as parents, we just want to play on our cell phone (computer, tablet) and not interact with our kids. Sometimes we don't want to do something, so we have our kids do it.

There is a difference between teaching our children self-reliance to make them healthier, more productive, more confident people, and our children learning self-reliance because we are too "busy" sleeping, staring at our phone, talking to our friends or do something else that causes our children to learn self-care at a young age to cope with a lack of care from his or her parent.

If you are not taking care of your kid's basic needs then you should re-evaluate how you are parenting. Make sure your kids are bathed (not that you have to actively do it after age 4/5, but make sure THEY are washing them-self!) Make sure your kids are wearing clothing that is appropriate for the weather. Make sure your kids are fed regular, nutritious meals. Make sure your kids go to school on time every day.  Make sure your kids are adequately cared for after school {if you work and/or can't be at home to take care of them}.

Encouraging self-reliance in children IS avoiding being a "helicopter parent"

Sometimes we "hover" over our children and "micro-manage" their free-time. When we do that, we create children who are not able to think for themselves. When we constantly are telling our kids what to do and not giving the time and space to figure out what they want/need to do, we are taking away valuable learning opportunities.

Consider the long-term consequences of not teaching children how to think for themselves and/or not allowing your children to think for themselves: if they need you to think for them for day-to-day decisions as young children... who is going to think for them when they are teens and you are not around?? That's right, their peers. I don't want some hormone crazed teen boy making choices for my girl. 

Instead, if we give them time, space and a safe environment to make their own choices, we teach them to think for themselves.  Children should have choices they can make daily, and should have practice making those choices.  Choices like what to have for breakfast, what to take for lunch, what to wear, what to read, what to do in their free time, what to build with their legos, etc.  

As parents we need to build time into OUR schedule to allow our kids to have time to make choices (it WILL take longer if they do it), we also need to build time into THEIR schedule to give them the opportunities to make choices in a stress-free environment.

One simple way to do this when they are young, is by providing them with an hour or two of independent quiet time daily in their rooms, where they can play with their toys, read or do non-messy crafts. This allows them to just "be a kid" and forces them to figure out a way to keep  entertained without a screen.

Try not to tell them how to spend this "free-time" - this is their time. (If this is a new concept in your home, your kiddos may need some suggestions the first couple of times) 

We provide kid friendly, accessible crafts and activities that they can do without our help. We have a cabinet and a couple drawers that are stocked full of craft supplies, along with 2-3 ideas books that can whet their creative appetite.

I still sit down on the floor with them and play board games (unless I can avoid it... I really hate Candy Land), I still bead with my daughter, I still read to them and still view myself as their primary teacher for all things that can't be learned at school (which is A LOT of stuff!) 

However, by allowing them to play without hovering, they stop playing to impress me and start to play to sincerely enjoy life.

Encouraging self-reliance in children IS NOT being "laid back" when it comes to discipline, nutrition, sleep and screen time.

Yes, you know your child. Yes, you know best what works for them. YES, it's your prerogative what you feed them, how you discipline them, what their bedtime is and how much t.v./video game time they have. However, it is my observation that many parents leave these things up to the kids. All of these things can have a lasting impact on a child's life.

Food is fuel for the body and mind. Poor nutrition can impact grades, energy levels and of course health {for a life-time!}.

Discipline (or a lack thereof) can result in poor grades, a higher chance to drop-out of school, drug use and more! Telling your children "no" is good for them, it prepares them for a life of following rules, rules which are ultimately created to keep them safe.

Poor sleep can mess up school performance, and can also create an early dependence on caffeine. I have had friends tell me that they let their 8 year old stay up to 10 pm on a school night because "they aren't tired". Kids 5-12 should get 10-11 hours of sleep a night {regardless of what they think}. Sleep is extremely important. To read a kid-friendly article about this, check out this article.

Screen time is another one of those hot-button issues.  We all know it's not good for our kids, yet we generally allow more than what has been proven to be healthy.  There are screens everywhere, and it is so easy to allow our kids to be entertained for hours staring at or interacting with a screen.  Too much can actually hurt our kids.

Encouraging self-reliance in children IS providing a framework within which your children learn to make healthy choices for themselves. 

What is a framework? Simply put, it is an essential supporting structure. It is the base where a child builds their life. It's setting limits that allow room for choices, so your child knows where to draw the line. {Some people call these BOUNDARIES}.

For example: Most kids have an afternoon snack. Many parents make a snack for their kids, without giving a choice. Other parents give no limits on snacks {so Cheetos and soda is what their 8 year old eats}. Creating a framework around snacks would look like defining what a "healthy" snack would consist of, giving limits on "junk food" and observing your child as they make their snack choice each day so you know they understand the guidelines.

Another example is a 14 year old who wants to have a boyfriend. What kind of framework would you build to protect your child and still potentially allow them to have a valuable life experience?

Creating frameworks around sleep, screen-time, food and more will create an environment where your kids have room to make choices, but are being protected {by you}.

Set boundaries, your kids will thank you.

So, what say you? Do you try to do this with your kids?
How does it work in your house? 

 Do you find it challenging or easy? Did you like this post? I would love if you would like my facebook fan page or share by pinning or tweeting what you just read or you can follow me on pinterest or twitter! {Let me know you stopped by and leave a comment}

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