It sure is nice to see your kids grow up and start doing things on their own. I mean, it’s somewhat terrifying to realize that someday soon they won’t need you anymore, but still, good job for teaching your kids how to tie their own shoe! One moment almost every parent remembers is that glorious day when your children can get themselves dressed and buckle (and unbuckle!) themselves from their car seat! OH HAPPY DAY! As parents it’s our job to keep these little people alive, well fed and taken care of — but there comes a point where you have to let go and let them start trying things on their own. How does one prepare for such a day? How do you empower kids and send them out into the big huge world with a sense of self worth and confidence that gives them an upper hand in both their personal and professional relationships? Here’s a few things I’ve learned in getting my own baby to nine, I’m not saying I’ve done perfectly, but it sure is nice to see things I tried so hard to teach her begin to take hold and serve her well in her day-to-day life.
1. Let them learn patience.
I’m 30 and I can still have problems with patience, but if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that being impatient rarely gets anyone what they want and just the simple act of being patient is a dying virtue. One thing I vowed not to do (except under extreme duress) is rely on screens and technology to entertain a bored child. While the process of teaching patience is a long and sometimes unrewarding one, I now have at least one kid who can handle long road trips, sit through movies, plays and shows quietly, and who I can take out to dinner without the fear of her acting up out of boredom. If it worked once, my hope is it will work with the toddler as well — because being able to take your older kids out in public and not have them act foolishly is a reward in itself.
2. Give them responsibility.
Vivi is almost 3 and already believes that if she doesn’t feed the cats they will surely starve to death. That’s the funny thing about kids, when they’re little they see helping you as the greatest thing in the world, grasp onto that desire and they will come to see responsibility as being part of a family. Chores everyday, do them or deal with the consequences — it’s how both my husband and I were raised and it’s how we’re trying to raise our girls.
3. Give them something to care for.
Maybe it’s something as simple as a plant, but when kids can see the direct result of their care for something it gives them a sense of pride nothing else can. Addie has had a special fondness for one of our cats since we first brought him home from the shelter, her patience and love with him has paid off in the form of a friendship no one can mess with. The cat follows her to bed each night, curls up by her head and stays by her side all night.
4. Teach them respect.
Respect, something I’m afraid will be lost on the next generation if we don’t teach our children about it now. When children respect themselves and those around them it gives them an upper hand in almost everything they do. They can’t be as easily persuaded into bad decisions, they stand out in a professional crowd when they are capable of looking someone in the eye and shaking their hand like they mean it. They begin to care about how their actions affect those around them and take their relationships, both personally and professionally, more seriously.
5. Lead by example.
I’ve always tried to be a good example to my kids, keeping complaints to myself and using constructive criticism and complaints when I do have grievances to air. Sometimes I’m not so sure they’re paying attention to any of it, but every once in a while some of it gets through and comes out when I least expect it. Nothing quite like being schooled by your own kid in a proper response to a difficult situation. Of all the people in my children’s lives, I realize they’re watching me the closest, with that in mind I stay very mindful of my behavior and it has paid off in major ways.
6. Instill gratitude.
There are certain values we all try to instill in our kids, and gratitude is at the top of my list of virtues I wish to instill in my children. The more time I spend around the generation between my own and my daughters’, the more I notice a sincere lack of gratitude. People remember when you say thank you, they remember when what they do for you is appreciated — and the best way to keep good things happening is to be grateful for the things that already have happened.
7. Don’t bail them out.
One of the best things my mom ever did for me was to never bail me out. If I forgot my homework? I got a bad grade. If I forgot my lunch? I went hungry. If I had been arrested? I would have been spending the night in jail. Want to know what the best motivation to never get arrested is? Knowing you have no one to bail you out. I don’t rely on anyone else to take care of me, if I mess up I know it’s my fault — which leads me to stay responsible for my own actions and obligations.
8. Let them make decisions, and deal with the consequences.
It can be hard to let my kids make their own choices sometimes, but it has to be done. I won’t be there with them in college to tell them to grab a sweater because it’s chilly out or eat a good breakfast because lunch is a long ways away. While I’m still in charge of the major decisions (no, you may not play with matches) leaving smaller ones up to them, and letting them deal with (or enjoy) the consequences of their choices, allows them to see cause and effect in their daily lives and the control they have over it.
9. Teach them self-care.
I don’t know what it is about 9 year old children, but I’m fairly certain they would never be clean if they didn’t have someone watching out for them (or at least forced to smell them every once in awhile.) There’s basic cleanliness needs that need to be addressed early on, not only because they’re good habits to form, but also because it keeps them from becoming embarrassing problems later on. Again, it’s one of those times you can teach them to wash their armpits, but it’s their decision to listen. If they don’t? They may learn a pretty embarrassing lesson in front of their friends.
10. Let them be self-sufficient.
This one is not only for the good of my children, it’s for the good of myself. I don’t want to be doing everything for my kids until they leave the house. Self sufficiency is one of the greatest side effects of not bailing your kids out. They learn to take care of things themselves, not relying on you or others around them to take care of things for them. It teaches them to think a situation through, how it will affect them and others around them. What’s more, is when a child is self sufficient they may be even more capable of helping others around them (hi! you!) as their needs are taken care of by themselves. The path to self sufficiency is sometimes a bumpy one, but it’s not our job to criticize their attempts (Oh! You made yourself a bread sandwich for lunch?) only encourage (What do you think you could add to make your sandwich even better next time?).
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.