Teach Children to Think for Themselves
Since life is so busy, we all take short cuts. We may not even notice how many short cuts we take each day, especially those we take while raising children. How often do we do a chore that was supposed to be done by a child, just because it will be quicker (not to mention easier) than getting the child to do it? Or we dress a small child because they are slower than we want them to be?
We take other short cuts in raising our children, too. We do quite a bit of thinking for them, instead of making them think for themselves. Parents will eventually notice when their children seem to be asking them annoying questions that the parent knows that the child has the answer to, like "Mom, where is the peanut butter?" We also let them off the hook in thinking through situations: have you ever been on the phone with an important call, and your child is interrupting you with some question or need?
When children enter into confrontations with each other, parents tend to sometimes step in too soon to solve the children's disagreement by simply separating them, or handing out a consequence and forcing the children to apologize to each other. The only thing the children have learned is that adults will solve their problems, to avoid fights in front of adults, and that all you have to do to "make up" is say "sorry".
When children who are very needy for consistent and close guidance are in our care, we may tend to "over guide" them out of our concern that if we do not, they will quickly 'get out of line'. Children with mental health disorders who have a high level of distractibility and poor focus often do need very close guidance and clear, simple directives. But if we do not help them to expand their opportunities to make good decisions, we are not allowing the child to progress in their development. To be sure, it is a very difficult task for an adult to determine just how much "leash" to allow with children who have behavioral problems. Try starting these children out with simple challenges to force them to think. (see 'What To Say To Make Them Think')
By making a child's decisions for them, solving all of their conflicts for them, or guiding their every behavioral movement in a day, we are also depriving the child of age appropriate responsibilities. When a parent does this over a long period of time, they will become trapped by a teen (or older) child who is extremely dependent upon them to function. As a former Boy Scout Leader, I have seen many, many, new boys to the Troop that clearly have had too many decisions made for them by parents. Like the Tenderfoot who has had his mother pack his backpack for the camping trip!
There is nothing wrong with taking short cuts, but not all the time when it comes to raising children! When we constantly solve all of the child's problems and make all of their decisions for them, we are depriving them of valuable learning experiences that they need to mature.
Learning how to stop thinking for your child all the time is not hard to do, it just takes practice and learning some new techniques. It also takes a general idea of what is 'age normal' for any particular child, teaching the child how, and then standing back to let them do it themselves.
Bill Krill is a guest writer and a Child and Adolescent Mental and Behavioral Health professional trainer. You can read more about his services on his parent education, support, and coaching