This piece is written by Tyler Jacobson. I like having a dad’s perspective and find his wish for his daughter especially touching because I’m not sure men always articulate in their mind how much they want their daughters to have a voice. Tyler expresses it as, “ I wanted [my daughter] to be confident and comfortable in who she is, in spite of constant outside voices clamoring for her to conform and be someone else.” In this blog Tyler describes his own personal approach with reference to what the experts say about each step.Read More
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Filtering by Tag: responsibility
Most parents understand and are comfortable with this when it comes to safety. Your two year old may want to climb the wobbly ladder by himself but you know that the risk is too great, so you offer a compromise--she may climb it with you hanging on to him tightly or she may climb her toy slide by herself. He may not use the big knife to cut onions but he may use the plastic knife to cut bananas or to spread butter.Read More
There are many reasons to give kids chores (To see a comprehensive list, go HERE. Kids like to feel needed and capable. Chores help with both. When parents set up chores as “In our family we help each other,” kids see their work as being an important part of being a member of the family. Plus, kids like knowing they are able to do things on their own. They like being able to know that they were the one who made the living room sparkle or who saw to it that every family member had a sandwich ready to take in his lunch. When all the family members are contributing, it frees up time for family fun, and parents are less stressed. Parents have to get themselves ready for work. If the kids are making lunch for everyone while Mom and Dad are getting breakfast on the table, families end up having a few minutes to sit down and start the day together.Read More
It’s back to school time, and most parents ask themselves what academic skills are my children going to learn this year? What number concepts will they have mastered? How will their writing improve?
Not to worry. Your children’s teachers have those topics covered.
But what are you going to focus on teaching your child this year? Life skills are first and foremost the responsibility of the parent. Here are some of the key skills that will support your children’s school success:
Emotional awareness has to do with being able to identify emotions in yourselves and others. This is built in children first by helping them identify emotions and states of being in themselves by narrating their experience. That means guessing what is going on with them by connecting their physical clues with their likely emotional states. You might say things like, “You’re shivering. You must be feeling cold” or “You are pulling your eyebrows tight together. Are you angry about something?” Increasing the emotional vocabulary beyond mad, sad and glad also helps children be more aware of the range of emotional states. Are they annoyed or furious? A bit blue or down in the dumps? Content or jumping for joy? Emotional awareness can then be extended to their interactions with other people or characters from a book. You might say, “I see that Camille’s lower lip is jutting out like this and the corners of her mouth are turned down. How do you think she is feeling right now? The more sophisticated kids get at perceiving their own and other’s emotional states, the more efficiently they can offer solutions for altering that state.
Resiliency means bouncing back relatively easily from difficult experiences (Note that it does not mean sheltering our children from difficult experiences!). Being emotionally aware is a good first step in building resilience in children. Naming emotions and connecting them the physical states allows children to step back from their emotions and be less overwhelmed by them. Let’s say that a child is feeling some strong emotions because she has lost a game. Perhaps she is disappointed at her own performance. Perhaps she fears being judged as “less than” compared to her peers. Perhaps she feels disconnected because attention has shifted to the winners of the game. Knowing what the strong emotion is allows her to take an action that will address that specific need. If she is disappointed in her own performance, she might make a plan for what to practice for next time. If she feels being judged compared to her peers, she might remind herself that there are lots of other things she is good at. If she feels disconnected, she might reintegrate herself by congratulating the winners on their accomplishment. Each of these actions has the potential for helping to regulate her strong emotions.
Taking Responsibility for One’s Own Actions
A big part of taking responsibility for one’s own actions is seeing oneself as being “in process.” When we accept that as we learn new things we are bound to make mistakes, it makes it easier for us to own up to actions or decisions which in hindsight were maybe not the best choices. Parents can help their children learn this by encouraging their children to reflect on their actions rather than to just be critical about them. Children who have parents who model forgiveness learn to forgive themselves. That makes it safe for them to admit when they have messed up. This in turn aids in their picking themselves up and moving forward. (For a complete blog on accepting blame, go HERE.)
One of my favorite questions for kids is, “What needs to happen now?” Spilt milk? What needs to happen now? Lost sweater? What needs to happen now? Little brother crying because you grabbed a toy from him? What needs to happen now? Failed to save your homework on the computer and don’t have it to turn in? “What needs to happen now?”
Many parents have a tendency to rush in too fast. They rush to make things better. They rush to punish. They rush to find a solution. But given the chance, kids are natural problem solvers. Milk spills? Even a toddler has seen you wipe things up dozens of times. Next time try asking, “What needs to happen now?” Most toddlers will run grab a rag (You can help them out by hanging some rags or having a paper towel rack at their level). Computer glitches? Maybe you can work some magic to recover a lost document. If yes, great. Take the time to teach your child how to do the same trick. If no, offer lots of sympathy, but at the end of the day, let your child suffer the consequence whether that is redoing the assignment or getting in trouble with the teacher. When you solve things for your child, he might be grateful in the short run, but in the long run you have failed to teach him anything.
Mentally walk through your child’s day and consider where she could be more independent. If she is a toddler or preschooler, could she do more to put on her own clothes? Handle her own ablutions? Pick up after herself more? With training, bit by bit, a child can do all these things before entering Kindergarten with very little supervision. An elementary school child can learn to get his own cereal, make his own lunch and pack his backpack for school. He can begin to read the weather and make guesses based on the season (or check the app!) to decide whether he needs a sweater or a jacket in that backpack. He can sort his laundry and make sure it gets to the laundry room. He can fold it and put it away. An upper elementary school child should be doing homework independently and asking for help only after trying a couple different strategies. She should be getting comfortable with walking away from you physically—next door to borrow some sugar or to the other end of the store to pickup the milk or down the block to a friend’s house. A middle school child should be keeping track of her own schedule and communicating her needs (for carpooling or other support) to her parents and coordinating what will work for them. She should be able to talk to her teachers and coaches when she has questions or concerns.
The Bottom Line: Parents Set Their Kids Up for Success
Parents are their kids' first teachers. Kids who have learned these five life skills come to school ready to learn. They have the external structures which allow them to work efficiently and the internal structures that allow them to cope when things get hard both socially and academically. In the end, these are the skills that allow your child to focus more fully on her academics, so if you want your child to do well at school, don’t ask him to do extra assignments or get him extra tutoring. Help him learn to regulate his emotions, to find ways to stay positive when things get hard, to see the effects of his own actions (positive or negative), to find solutions to problems and, finally, to take charge of his own life as much as he is developmentally ready to do so.
These skills do not happen over night. The mastery of each of them represents many hours of thoughtful parental guidance. It is easy to feel impatient as a parent. You might wail, “I’ve told him a thousand times to….” Look for improvement and take heart. As much as possible, try to use questions rather than “I told you’s.” Asking, “What is the result of leaving wet towels on the floor?” is much more effective than yelling for the umpteenth time, “Hang up your wet towel!” A child who can verbalize that wet towels lead to mold, smelly bathrooms, and maybe even wood rot is much less likely to just throw the towel on the floor.
Get Support in Supporting Your Children
Parenting is a life skill. It is something we learn, not something we just know how to do. How effective are you at instilling life skills in your children? Which ones come easily? With which do you still struggle? I hear a lot of variations from parents along the theme of "But my kid just isn't ready" or "Well, my kid has ADHD, so I can't trust him to do that on his own." Few children are able to jump from A to Z, but all children are capable of learning if you break the learning down into small enough chunks.
Do you need help scaffolding these life skills for your kids? I can help! Sign up HERE for a "On the Road to Responsible" 20-minute Strategy Session.
by Elisabeth Stitt
Earlier this fall I wrote a blog called Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do by Middle School. People really wanted to hear what they could expect from their kids by that age. But they were unsure how to get there. So, I wrote this guide to making pancakes to give you a sense of how to break down tasks. All learning can be scaffolded and all kids can learn--often much sooner than you than you think. Remember, your job is to do yourself out of a job one small skill at a time.
With Your Infant
Talk/sing to your child to narrate what you are doing as you do it:
Now it's time to measure the flour, measure the flour, measure the flour/Now it's time to measure the flour early in the morning. [crack the egg, mix the batter, test the pan, etc.]
With Your Toddler
Begin to ask, What do we need? What's first? As soon as he can safely stand on a sturdy stool next to the counter, you do the measuring but let him dump the contents [except the eggs] into the bowl. He can do the mixing. You get the pan to the right temperature. By putting your arms under his from behind, you are going to protect him from the hot pan. Hand him a small pitcher (like a creamer size) of batter and guide him as he pours it onto the pan. Do one pancake at a time to make the flipping easier. (You can have a second pan going at the back of the stove to actually feed the family!) Have him watch for bubbles in the batter. You take the spatula, lift up the pancake and flip it. When it is ready, guide his hands on the spatula and help him get the pancake to the plate. Put a spatula in his toybox, and he will start flipping all kinds of things.
With Your Preschooler
Show him the recipe. Model how you follow along with your finger and check that you have each ingredient. Have him gather all the ingredients he can reach (alone or with a low stool). Begin to have him do the measuring. It is easier to start with smaller measuring cups and a sturdy, wide-mouthed container for things like flour and sugar. For hard tasks like pouring out the salt, start by having him hold the spoon and scrape the excess off with the back side of a butter knife. If cracking the egg is hard, have him practice with half a dozen eggs at a different time, warning about the dangers of raw eggs and being super careful about his not putting his hands in his mouth. Teach him to wash his hands carefully afterwards. Flipping the cakes will get increasingly independent. Give him a hand when he needs it, but also be ready to sacrifice a few pancakes to the floor as he is learning.
With Your Kindergartner/First Grader
Have your child read the recipe. This should be easy as by now he should have memorized it. If he is struggling, print it out in the big type--a piece of paper is easier than a cookbook--and read it aloud with him. At this point, you and your child have made a ton of pancakes. By this time, he should be capable of handling the whole process on his own, with a few assists in turning on the stove and checking the pan temperature. You will be standing near by--at the ready in case anything becomes dangerous--but you will let your child make mistakes (like putting the bowl too close to the edge of the counter and having the whole thing tip onto the floor!). Remember, the purpose here is not the pancakes. The purpose is the learning. Having to clean up a bowl of batter is a much better teacher than reminding him for the millionth time.
With Your Second/Third Grader
Your child makes you pancakes. You eat them up happily. Whoo hoo! Good job, Parents!
Breaking It Down
Pancakes are a great place to begin with independence because children love to eat them, so you have built in motivation. But you can break down any task and engage your kids in it--making their beds, doing the laundry, planting a garden. You name it. When kids master skills, they feel important, and when those skills help the family, they feel needed. That brings families together.
Are you afraid that you are doing too much for your kids and that you are failing to teach them to stand on their own two feet? Not to worry. Earlier is better, but it is never too late. Just give it a go, starting wherever your child is developmentally ready and going one step at a time.
If you still feel insecure, let's troubleshoot together. Sign up for a complimentary introductory strategy session HERE.
Natural vs. Logical Consequences
Some people are confused by the difference between natural and logical consequences. Actually, it is not that hard. A natural consequence is what is going to happen anyway if no one takes any action. Leave the milk out all night? It will go bad. A logical consequence is the choice a parent can make to deal with that reality. If a child leaves the milk out all night and the milk goes sour, the parent can choose to let the natural consequence stand (You may drink no milk or sour milk.) or he can impose a logical consequence. The purpose of the logical consequence is not to punish. It is to improve an unpleasant situation, to make a wrong a right or to impress a lesson upon someone so she realizes the impact of her actions.
In the case of logical consequences, there are often a variety of choices that will serve the purpose. Sour milk likely affects the whole family. In that case, a parent may choose to not make the rest of the family suffer the natural consequence of sour milk and may find a way for the child to make it up to her family. To be effective, a logical consequence must be related to the situation. It does not make sense, for example, to take away t.v. privileges for forgetting to put the milk away. What does make sense is to get more milk. So, one logical consequence might be that you send your child to the store for more milk. If she is too young to go by herself, you could agree to drive her, but now her mistake is taking you extra energy (not to mention money). There are lots of ways she could make that up to you.
Note that this entire situation can be dealt with in a matter-of-fact tone. The parental script might go something like this:
Yuck, the milk has gone sour. Ana, I think you were the last one to have milk last night. What needs to happen now?
I don’t know.
Well, I guess we can do without milk until shopping day, but that doesn’t seem fair to everyone else.
But, Dad, I didn’t mean to.
I can hear that you feel bad about it, Darling, but we still need to make this right. What can be done to fix this situation?
You could go to the store and get some more.
That’s true, but I need to sort the laundry and get it started right now.
What if I sort the laundry for you, Daddy? I know how to pick out the white laundry and how to start the machine.
That sounds like a good solution. What about the cost of the milk?
I guess I should pay for it. I have two dollars left from my allowance. Is that enough?
Well, it is not enough to pay for a new gallon container, but the container that went sour was more than half used already, so I think two dollars will cover it.
Thanks, Dad! I really appreciate you going to the store for me. I’m sure going to remember to put the milk away next time.
You’re welcome, Ana. [Hug, kiss]
Here are some of the lessons Ana might get from this exchange:
•People make mistakes, and it is not the end of the world
•When someone makes a mistake, it is okay to empathize with her without rescuing her.
•When we make mistakes, the decent response is to try to make the situation right.
•If we need help making the situation right, we can ask others for help and then offer to do something for them to make their life easier.
•Mistakes and making up for them do not change the love and affection families feel for each other.
Here are the principals to keep in mind with logical consequences:
•They are not punishments; they should not shame the child.
•The are similar to what an adult would need to do in a comparable situation.
•As much as possible, the child should find a solution for making it right (keeping
in mind that a younger child might need ideas for appropriate solutions).
•The consequence must be reasonable and age appropriate. Clearly, it is not reasonable to ask a four year old to pay the total cost of replacing a window, but she could pay a portion of her allowance and then offer to do some extra chores. (Yes, I know that supervising extra chores is extra work for you; the pay back will be the lesson your child has learned.)
•Your child is learning. She is going to make lots of mistakes and lots of poor choices as she grows. What you are doing is helping her learn how to recover as much as possible when her actions have had negative effects.
One additional note: Wherever possible, try to help your child anticipate what the natural consequence of their actions is going to be. The natural consequence of not locking up your bike, for example, is its getting stolen. A child may be able to see that far, but he may not see the consequences of not having a bike: You might have to get up earlier so you can catch the bus to school; you might have to do extra chores to pay for the bus tickets; you might have to give up soccer so that you have time on Saturday to do the extra chores. The more you have helped kids think these situations through, a) the more likely they are going to think about the importance of, say, locking their bikes and b) the more likely they are going to handle the consequences with less drama. Making a mistake and suffering the consequence gives a child a marvelous opportunity to take responsibility and show how capable he can be. But I remind you again, this is a learning process! It might takes a lot of iterations before the lesson is fully absorbed.