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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cut the cord... Give them the World!

We were recently having lunch at the office and the conversation turned to sending kids off to college. One person shared the story of a friend's very smart, straight A, "jammed on the ACT" child who flunked out of college because he never went to class and played video games all day.  The point being made was that person was going to keep closer tabs on their children when they went to college to avoid letting them fail.

Dr Mellick and I both chimed in at that point, each with very similar points of view.

By college a child is no longer a child, and is treated by the law and banks as an adult.  They should have learned self control and self management long ago.  If they fail to learn along the way under the supervision of parents life's lessons, they will fail in many ways.  I had two college friends (now parents themselves) who had parents that still tried to run their schedules and keep close tabs on them.  Mom or Dad would call every night to be sure the student was in the dorm by a certain hour.  This takes the responsibility away from the college student and puts it on the parents. The students then looked for ways to outsmart the parents, rather than ways to manage their lives. They knew they had to be home by a certain time, but then they left to party or stay at a friend's apartment after they hung up.  They hadn't learned self control or time management.  They had learned to manipulate the parents and the system.  Not what I want for my kids! Not what a potential boss wants from an employee. Not what makes for a caring and supportive spouse or parent.

Kids need to learn so many things before they move out of the house to become well rounded adults who can hold down a job, lead a family, and contribute to society.  This is a process ~ not something they learn the summer before college, and hopefully not something they learn after falling on their face in life.  A recent article in the New Yorker, Spoiled Rotten Why do kids rule the roost?  highlights why American children are so spoiled they become adultescents (adults who have yet to grow up). Worth the read!

Life skills to learn:

  • how to eat nutritious foods in proper portions
  • to spend, save, and give wisely
  • when to recognize they are tired and to get enough sleep
  • time management: work, school, social/fun, rest, chores, projects, exercise, etc
  • self control
  • study habits
  • how to clean the home 
  • simple repairs around the house
  • cooking
  • laundry
  • how to pay bills on time
  • exercise daily
  • following routine dental and medical care
  • how to stay within a budget
  • caring for others
  • respect for self and others
None of these things are learned by someone telling kids how to do them.  They are best learned over time by doing each of them.  Skills build upon previous skills, so first learning basic daily needs (dressing, brushing teeth, washing body, picking up after self) and then learning to do each more independently and finally being able to organize their own schedule to get it all done.  Many of these are learned by sometimes failing, and that is okay.  For more information specifically on chores, see my past post Chores for kids become chores for parents.

Even young children can be taught to help with daily chores.  Starting with preschoolers, the "chores" can be self-skills, such as picking out weather - appropriate clothes and getting dressed, brushing teeth, and other daily activities.  It is much faster for a parent to dress a child (usually) than having a young child do it themselves, but at some point they need to learn, and the earlier, the better!  If they choose weather- inappropriate clothes after discussion of the anticipated forecast, you can help with suggestions.  Sometimes the best way for them to learn is to wear something inappropriate and seeing what it feels like to be too hot or too cold.  This is within reason, of course-- a parent needs to be sure kids are safe: the younger the child, the more supervision needed.  When they were young, I would make them carry another layer if they were underdressed, but I feel no guilt in allowing my middle schoolers to choose shorts in the winter-- their choice!

We follow this process of increasing expectations in our office. Have you noticed as your kids get older  I ask more history from them, not the parent? When Mom or Dad chimes in with the answer, I try to redirect to the child to let them answer what the symptoms are, how long they've been there, what treatments have been tried and if they worked or not. Please let your kids answer ~ they know this stuff! Eventually we offer if the kids want the parents out of the room for privacy. This allows tweens and teens to start accepting responsibility for their healthcare. 

Kids will fail, and that is okay. All part of the learning process. Allow them to learn from failure when the risks are lower as young kids, not when the risk is higher as a teen or young adult.  Kids tend to just get mad if parents always point out the failure but then "save" them by not enforcing consequences.  Examples would be yelling at a child who didn't finish chores and continuing to remind them that they didn't do the chore and you had to do it for them, yet allowing the activities they want to do. Their chore has now become your problem.  They don't own it, so they don't care.  They will continue to allow you to own that chore.  They simply have to listen to you complain about it, which doesn't build strong family bonds, but doesn't require any work on their part.  

Often parents "own" the child's work: the parents keep harping on the child to do his homework, but the child is not motivated. I have previously written about the Homework Battle Plan, and I suggest reading it if your child struggles.  Too often parents "help" by doing much of the work for the child, who complains every step of the way. There are many parents who bring in the forgotten homework because the child forgets it routinely and the parent doesn't want the grades to suffer.  Are you going to drive the homework to the college professor too?  Let young kids suffer the consequence of a bad grade to hopefully learn.  If you keep "helping" them through elementary, middle, and high school, they have never learned what is really important: being responsible for your own work. 

Each stage of growing up has a new set of skills kids can learn to help with.  As kids grow and want to be away from home more, begin by training them how a decision is made, how to spend appropriately, how to make healthy choices.
A family calendar is a great way to let them help with time management.  I love the Google Calendar for this.  Everyone who is invited to the calendar can view it (and add to it if permission is given) so potential conflicts can be identified before they even ask if something is okay to do.  
Start going through questions that are pertinent to the situation so they can learn to think about it themselves:  Is all work done before doing an activity? How will you get there and back safely?  What time do you plan to be home and what time do you have to get up in the morning-- is that enough sleep? How much does this activity cost, and do you have the money to do it? Who will be there and who will be supervising? You still make the final decision, but you might also see the light click when they realize they have other priorities that need to be done first.
Talk about money management without worrying kids about family finances. If kids want a new game, don't get it for them, have them save. Talk about how much they need to save each week to have enough money by a deadline. How will they earn the money? When kids beg to eat out, talk about how much it costs for the family to eat at XYZ restaurant and how much it would cost buy similar food at the grocery store to eat at home. (One that comes up often at my house is going out for ice cream.  How much it costs to go out for ice cream vs buy one container for home is easy to calculate and makes a great point.)  Allow teens to get a job and help them balance money spending and saving. Require that they pay for certain needs or desires.
Have young kids help with simple chores around the house, then increase responsibilities as they get older. My kids loved putting clothes on hangers as preschoolers. I admit that now my kids choose to keep their clean laundry in a pile rather than putting it away, but I suspect they will learn that it is easier to find clothes when put away in their place eventually. Kids can learn to vacuum, dust, and even clean toilets in elementary school. Initially supervising and teaching takes more time than doing it yourself, but when kids learn the skills, that time spent pays off! 
If  kids learn the complex process parents go through to make sure kids will be safe and the activity doesn't conflict with other things, they will start to learn to think through all those things too.  Model good behaviors with time and money management.  Spend quality fun family time together to build strong bonds so they will ask for help when needed ~ but don't give answers, just direction!  Over the years you will watch them grow and mature and they have the world in their hands!