Prepare your kids early for a successful launch later

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by Susan

Susan enthusiastically wears the hat of mom, step-mom and foster mom to 4 awesome kids – ages 18, 14, 10 and 14 months; is married to her very own prince charming, loves coffee, cloudy days, and does think the bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle. You can find her at her other day job, The Confident Mom, and then get a copy of her free ebook, “Getting Kids to Cooperate and Become Team Players.”

“The most beautiful sight in the world is a child going confidently down the road of life after you have shown him the way.” — Confucius

Confucius had it right—isn’t that what our job as a mom is…getting our kids ready to leave the nest? At what point do you start intentionally putting forth that extra effort to develop independence and self-reliance in your kids? How do you prepare them for a life out on their own?

It can start a lot sooner than you think.

You are in the position to leave an indelible mark on the life of your child, and you are doing it often without even being aware of it. That can be a somewhat scary thought — unless you are giving your child realistic expectations and encouragement along the way.

Preparing your child to launch into adulthood is a step-by-step process and takes years! The sooner you start, the more beneficial it will be for your child.

I would love to share with you what I have experienced personally on my own journey of “raising adults” as well as tips I share with moms I support on the journey of motherhood.

Take a step back

Allowing your children to do more for themselves is one way to allow them to become independent and self-reliant—both characteristics needed for adulthood. Often times we make the mistake of continuing to “do” for our children what they, in fact, can do for themselves because we want to be nice or feel it might be too challenging for them.

You might be surprised what your children can actually accomplish on their own if you just get out of the way!

Can four-year-olds make the bed? I bet they can. It may not look as nice as if you made it, but ultimately you are allowing your child to grow and take pride in a job. How about making their own lunch, doing laundry, or cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen?

Everything will depend on your child’s age, maturity, and current abilities, but when moms allow their children to begin developing life skills, they are often AMAZED by what their children can accomplish.
Never do for your children what they can and should do for themselves. I cannot stress enough the pride and independence that develops when we just give our kids a chance.

Remember, the goal is not to overwhelm your children by demanding too much—start by giving them new tasks gradually over time, increasing their role in their own care.

Allow choices


Photo by Whitney Sherwood

Most parenting books and resources offer different forms of manipulation in order to get children to do what you want them to do, when you want them to do it. Ultimately, this type of approach will backfire, as children will be less accustomed to making choices on their own. They’ll tend to wait for someone to tell them what to do or have trouble making basic decisions.

One mom I am currently working with shared with me what she discovered when she began looking at her parenting weakness with regard to her six-year-old: “She tends to have trouble making decisions, and I wonder if I have fostered this by doing so much for her.”

This certainly can happen if children are not allowed to make even the simplest choices on a daily basis. Giving choices allows growth and develops decision-making “muscles” that children so desperately need to develop.

By giving children age-appropriate choices, they will feel empowered and begin to practice how to make choices; they’ll discover what it feels like to make positive choices—as well as what it means when they makes poor choices.

Allow the wrong choice

Learning to let go of rescuing your children every time they encounter difficulty will allow them to experience how their choices affect them in real life.

Do you look out for your childrens’ welfare, yet still allow them to experience the consequences of their choices? It’s hard to see our children make mistakes or make choices that would not be the best for them. We love our children; we want the best for them and watching them struggle is very difficult. But it is really the most loving thing we can do.

When children are given the opportunity to make a wrong choice and then work through the results of that choice with a parent alongside them, they are learning more than a speech would ever cover.

Unfortunately, the lessons that stick with us are the ones when we actually have to walk through a bad choice and deal with the consequences. How many of us can remember childhood lessons to this day that impact our choices or past decisions? It is the exact same opportunity for your children.

I know I would much prefer my children make “wrong choices” early in life when the stakes aren’t as high rather than waiting until they are older when the stakes can be life-altering.

Every day you have opportunities where you can allow growth for your children. Are you allowing it to happen? You cannot expect your children to become self-reliant and resourceful unless you are nurturing those traits and allowing growth.

Nurture problem solving


Photo by Sarah

Do you jump in when your children find themselves in a pickle? When your children have a problem and come to you asking you to “fix it” for them, do you?

It may be time to start nurturing problem-solving skills. The next time one of your children approaches you with a dilemma, try stepping back and walking through the process of problem solving with them. This can be as simple as you asking a short question such as, “What are you going to do about that?” Allow them to brainstorm and come up with other ideas, instead of you jumping in and fixing it for them.

You want your children to learn to deal with situations they get themselves into without having to always call Mom, right?

It seems the earlier and more often I asked these questions with my children, the less they came asking me to solve something or think for them. They soon started figuring things out on their own without my help.

Isn’t that what we want our kids to do…figure out solutions to their own problems?

I am a firm believer that every child lives up to the expectations you have for them. Our job as parents is to create an environment where our children can learn life skills and develop characters that will carry them into adulthood. If you take the time to intentionally “step back” in some areas, you will see your children blossom in areas they would otherwise not have been given a chance to develop.

What can you do today to foster growth in one of these areas?

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Comments

  1. Great post and something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

    I’m having a hard time putting my foot down to take kids away from their play time to ask them to participate in housework. When they are playing independently, it’s so much easier to just do things myself. But my mom asked me to do very little around the house and I’m still struggling with bad habits… and I want to instill better ones in them.

    I know my 6 year old can put folded clothes in the right drawers, for example, yet I forget to tell him that it’s his job.

  2. Our recent efforts to assign chores to each child cover the at least two areas you mentioned–taking a step back and allowing wrong choices. I am so encouraged! I will implement your tips today as I remind them about what is on their list to do.

  3. another great post. thank you. we have a big move coming up in 2 months and after that and establishing our new normal i’m planning on implementing some routine chores for my littles. we dont’ have anything consistent now, only putting your clothes where they belong (as in, not on the floor).

    i did walk in on my daughter once (age 5) folding the laundry. she said she was going to give me a break because i do laundry all the time (very true). no, it was not folded well, but i put it away in the drawers just it was. there was no way i was going to undo her hard work in front of her :).

    • We have a move coming up in 6 weeks though I go on Sunday. We will go back to being a single income family with a nonshiftworking nurse for a mum (YAY dayshifts Mon-Fri only) and a stay at home studying (and ministering) dad. We will have a normal life (as normal as it will ever get). We are planning on getting the kids into a great routine once everything has settled down, and chores will be one of them – they are 6 and 7.
      the best the boys have done was during Lent last year when their school had a “do something extra” rather than “give something up”. they made their beds for a whole week! At 5 and 6 I was impressed.

  4. great post…i totally agree. it is amazing just what kids are capable of doing for themselves if you give them the chance to.

    our 4 year old daughter has been helping unload dishes since she was 2.5. recently, she has shown interest in rinsing out her own plate and putting it in the dishwasher…and we’re not discouraging that :). she also makes her own bed, gets dressed and picks up her room as part of her AM “chores,” sets the table for dinner, and cleans up after herself and her brother after playtime. her 1.5 year old brother likes to do a lot of the things she does so he has already began picking up some of those life skills…mostly being able to clean up and put things away which is very helpful when he really likes to pull everything out!

  5. Great post! I need to focus on nurturing problem solving. I tend to fix everything, instead of asking questions. I have been letting our 4-year-old daughter do a lot more for herself, though. She can make her bed very well and that is her job every morning. She’s very dramatic, so most of the time she cries and insists she can’t do it before she actually does it, but I’m sticking to my guns, staying calm, and hoping she learns to do it cheerfully. She HATES picking up her toys, but we’re working on that. I’m realizing how much her 15-month-old brother understands. The other day, I asked him to put the magnetic letters back on the fridge (he had thrown them on the floor) and he went right over and started doing it! With some direction, he actually finished the job.

  6. Julia – make sure you hop over to get my free ebook on Getting Your Kids to Cooperate and Become Team Players” – I think there may be some tips and encouragement for you as you journey in the “chores” area. Chores – yep, that is a complete blog post all on it’s own!

  7. I totally agree about kids living up to your expectations. My daughter has surprised me again and again.

  8. Andie – what a lovely story with your daughter blessing you!! Sounds like you are ready to start implementing some routines that will successfully help build her skills after you move.

    Prasti – Awesome! When we allow our kids to share in the household responsibility they get the opportunity to feel connected and part of something much bigger – plus take pride in a job. She sounds like a great initiator!

    Alison – it is so hard to step back, isn’t it? For some mom’s I think it is easier, but for others it is sheer agony watching your kids struggle! The tears she sheds won’t last long – then you can give her some praise!

  9. Great post – I’ve certainly experienced the backlash of doing too much for my children and having them expect it as well as not have the skills to do certain things. We’ve had various “catching up” periods.

    Another thing we’ve done that is somewhat related to “let them make the wrong choices” is not always kissing pain away. Let them experience frustration, failure, fear – in a relatively safe place. One of the biggest frustrations I have with the current education system is that so much focus is placed on rewarding everyone in sports so no one feels bad. Life isn’t like that. You get beaten down sometimes. If early enough in life you can learn to fall short of your expectations and then pick yourself back up and keep going, that’s huge.

    We’ve found that sports is a great place to develop this essential mental toughness. It provides a great structured microcosm to fail and strive again in. But in general, I’ve found that jumping to praise too soon, or to soothe feelings when things haven’t gone well, only makes it harder to manage this tough stuff later on.

    If you have a loving family with lots of time together, some tough love is simply that – another form of love.

    • AMEN!! The sports area has always been a real sore spot for me as well. How many trophies does a kid need for coming in 5th? The real world is tough and allowing for those lessons to come early in an environment where you supported and loved regardless – is in my opinion some of the best learning that a child can experience. yes, tough love is another form of love – great line!

  10. I was just trying to figure out how to best handle the “i wanna do it myself” but she can’t these are FABULOUS suggestions.

  11. Excellent post! I couldn’t agree with you more…..This is how I parent and always have. I will tell you though that this is not a popular way to parent these days, and it amazes me how many parents don’t agree with this…..I have even had parents and non-parents (because they’re experts, you know) criticize me and say that my expectations are too high when my 11 year old has chores! Her chores are to clean her room, and bathroom once a week, and clean the kitchen in the evenings.

    I think we are already seeing the consequences of not parenting this way. I don’t want my kids growing up not being able to make choices and not knowing how to do anything for themselves! Just another reason they call parenting the hardest job in the world….

    • You are so right, it is not a popular way to parent these days! Parents have given themselves into the idea that it is better to give their child more and more for doing less and less. Look at the entitlement generation we have created. Balance is key and each family is different – being intentional in the choices is critical. Low expectations lead to low results – high expectations keep them reaching – I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  12. Susan – great post. As a mom of 5 (2 oldest sons are “launched” (23, 21) and living on their own, middle is a soph in college and then still have two teens at home (17 and 15) I just often stand stunned at the number of my kids peers who are so inadequately prepared for life. Mom – albeit – in the spirit of love and kindness – does nearly EVERYTHING for her offspring – even through high school – making lunches, doing all the laundry – and I just watch and wonder- what is going to happen when these young people enter adulthood? My kids have often thanked me now that I was the mom who fostered independence, giving them age appropriate tasks and encouraging them to take more and more responsibility – even if that meant “blowing it” and having to learn from their mistakes. Keep sharing this important message – so many need to hear it!

    • Thanks Ann – I so appreciate that a mom of “launched” adults shared her story. In my work I have found it jaw dropping at how many mom continue to do so much for their children – stuff they are completely capable to do – if given the chance. When a mom transitions to sharing some of the load and allowing her child to do more, it is amazing how the stress level decreases for the mom and the house becomes more harmonious! Truly! I am glad your kids can see now how loving you were to allow them to grow!

  13. Great article! This reminds me of that article in Time about parenting: fostering independence vs. helicopter parenting. Sometimes it is hard to not get involved because you just want to help. ; )

    Thanks for sharing this!

  14. Very useful information! I am so glad I found your blog! I could read for days!
    I’ll be back for more.

    Beth

  15. This is the kind of post that makes me re-evaluate. It’s easy to do things myself instead of letting my kids learn how, but what am I really teaching them when I do that? Thank you!

    • So glad you can take a ‘real’ look at where you are and where you need to go – that is real parenting and being authentic to the needs of your child(ren). You go Erin!! :-)

  16. This is a fantastic post that I will enjoy sharing with others! I love what you said about allowing children to make mistakes when the stakes aren’t as high. Right on!

  17. Thank you for this post. It’s the kind of thing that I feel I need to read maybe once a week in order to help me stay on track with my parenting. It also reminds me of a post I recently wrote about one of my stepfather’s parenting strategies with me when I was a child. He noticed that I was becoming a little Type A in life, and with my mom’s approval, he instilled a plan to pay me when I failed at something.

    But he told me he wouldn’t pay me for just any failure, it had to be something that I’d really tried for and really wanted, and then failed at. Basically, he wanted to reward me for taking risks and he wanted there to be a place in our family for conversation about failure. It was a wonderful gift he gave me, though I do write in my post that I don’t think it would work for every child. Now I am thinking about how to instill this Failure Payment Plan in my family.

    Your post additionally reminded me of one I read recently at the blog Thoroughly Human by a mom who is in the middle of the parenting, slowly teaching independence, and slowly letting go experience. She wrote a lovely piece about her experience with her son at: http://thoroughlyhuman.com/2011/01/31/missing-him-already

    • Thank you for sharing your story! Interesting idea on the payment for failure – I will have to check that out as well as the other article you shared.

  18. “Do you look out for your childrens’ welfare, yet still allow them to experience the consequences of their choices? ”

    This is HARD to do but thanks for the reminder that it is important!

    • Yes, hard to do. But there is a fine line between letting them fall and being careful to keep your child’s welfare in mind – it looks a little different for every family!

  19. Susan, Beautifully written and tremendously USEFUL!

    Reading through it I was reminded of the fantastic parenting course I took from you…such down to earth, honest and effective approaches to raising our children to have the skills they need to be the adults they want.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom here!

  20. avatar
    Another Mommy says:

    Growing up I came from a very loving home but my mother was most often found in bed due to health problems. She did as much as she could but she really could not do a lot for us. But we got what we needed from her love and guidance. We learned to take care of ourselves, frequently in a chaotic style, but it worked. You wanted clean clothes you washed them. You were hungry and weren’t tall enough to reach the counter, you climbed your way up and made a PB&J sandwich. Amazingly all of us are very independent and successful as adults.

    On the flip side, my aunt always had energy and was doing lots of amazing things with and for her children. Now that I’m a parent I think she may have done too much. She recently said she didn’t have time to help so and so because her own children’s rooms needed cleaning – ages 24 & 30 still living at home. Really? Still cleaning up after them?

    I love this post and want to be sure I implement these ideas in my home.

    • I am so sorry you had a childhood where your moms was ill, that had to be so difficult. It is amazing how situations we are “dealt” with give us the stamina to grow and be resilient. Sounds like you have done just that! My heart aches for those children who have moms who cannot see beyond the moment and continue to “take care” of their kids – being the maid or caretaker well beyond when it is useful. I truly am so thrilled when a mom shares a story where her child gets ready for school all on their own AND packs their own lunch and has a smile from ear to ear! PRIDE is something that is not given – it comes from within!

  21. Great post.
    One of the things I try to remember, especially with my 13-year old, is to say less, and listen more. I have to bite my tongue when he poses a dilemma he’s experiencing, and remember to ask him questions, and then listen. My first instinct is often to give him answers. It’s so tempting to tell them what to do when they’re struggling, but far more valuable to help them come to their own answers. Ohhhh, but it’s hard to remember!!! Thanks again!

  22. I l-o-v-e this post. I’ve have five children and this is exactly my MO in parenting. My kids have milestone years where they ‘gain’ a new activity. At eight years old, I no longer cut their meat at the dinner table. At nine, they started sorting their own laundry. At ten, they fully do their own laundry – sorting, pre-treating, using the washer/dryer, folding and putting away. At twelve, they get into the dish-night rotation, etc. There are a few others, but you get the idea. I am trying to raise independent people. They CAN take care of themselves on a lot of things. Some things sound a little harsh – I do not keep track of jackets, hats, etc. There are too many people in our home for me to know where everyone set something down. Backpacks and shoes have homes and if they aren’t there, Mom does not go looking for them. It works.. for the most part. :)

    But I loved the ideas in this post and thank you for the ideas!
    -Denise

  23. I enjoyed the whole post but the line about expectations stood out because when I was first pregnant my mom shared something that my dad’s mom shared with her “Your children will live up to – or down to – your expectations of them.” That really stuck with me and I try now to expect the best things from our son.

  24. I am a Mom (6 and 11 year old girls) and a manager in a large company. I wanted to note that as a manager I am seeing more and more of the type of person I do NOT want my girls to grow up to be. I had a young man (just out of college) working for me who would tell me stories of his upbringing. One day he was trying to convey how rough he had it growing up by telling me how his Mom would vacuum his room on Saturday mornings even if he was still asleep (at lunch time). Further stories revealed that though he has his own apartment now he still returns home to have his laundry done and eats every dinner and many lunches at his parent’s table to avoid cooking and cleaning. This young man was personable, intelligent and capable, he was also lazy, untrustworthy and had an “entitled” attitude. I’m afraid that this is the future of our children if parenting styles don’t change. We may no longer live on farms or plantations. We may no longer need the whole family pitching in just to keep food on the table. That doesn’t mean kids should be allowed to become couch potatoes, served by their parents. Kids need responsibilities and opportunities to help and increase their self worth while learning to appreciate what they are given. Our future is bleak if we don’t change the child raising pattern so often found in our country. Thank you for your message.

    • WOW, real life results in the flesh – you experienced it. That is a shame, most especially that he or his parent’s didn’t seem to think there was something ‘wrong’ with the picture. I am sincerely concerned as well for this entitlement generation we are creating – very disturbing!

  25. Great post! I started working toward these goals when my kids were older elementary, and while they have turned out to be responsible young adults, I think we should’ve begun sooner. My oldest daughter has 6 kids ages 2-10 and they do A LOT of the house chores. They make a lot of their own decisions. People are amazed when they see how mature her kids are even the younger ones. Don’t get me wrong, she gives them plenty of opportunity to be kids!
    Bernice

  26. What a great post! You describe the kind of parent I want to be, but, in the heat of the moment, I don’t take the time to think about how to help my daughter make her own way through her obstacles. I still find allowing her to make the wrong choice is difficult, but it is better to start training myself now so I will be ready for the years of experimentation to come!

    • It is always tough in the heat of the moment – but as with anything – practice helps. The more you intentionally slow things down to allow the opportunity for growth in both you and your daughter the better. Allowing the wrong choice is hard, I am not sure I can say that gets easier – but at least when you start allowing the wrong choice they tend to start making the right choice more frequently! :-)

  27. Great points. One of the biggest ways I help prepare my kids is by involving them in our real life experiences and talking about them. For instance, when our water heater self destructed all over the basement last month, I talked to my kids about how glad I was to have a serious chunk of money put aside for emergencies and how it was when I was younger and didn’t have that cushion. We talked about how often little things happen that can add up and be a catastrophe if you’re not prepared, and how many people we know that use money like tax returns for splurges (even ones they justify as practical) instead of protection. It was a nice, easy conversation in the kitchen with give and take, and I could tell they were really thinking about what they’d do with excess money like tax returns and unexpected windfalls.

    On a side note, can I just say that the apple picture totally creeps me out? It reminds me way too much of the fake “foods” our society feeds children these days. :)

  28. We have three little ones, 4, 4, 3 and they have been helping for a long time. They are encouraged to do so and praised when they do. They pick out their clothes and dress themselves, brush their own teeth, make their beds, sort their laundry, pick up their toys, and have recently asked if they could help fold and put away laundry. I think it’s all in how it’s presented. My daughter asks to wash the dishes, but that’s just not realistic yet.

  29. This is a very Montessori-ish concept and one we really try to make a part of our life. After we had our kids in a Montessori school for a while it really opened our eyes to what young children are capable of and we have made changes accordingly in our home too. Three year olds can fold clothes and really enjoy it – who knew?

  30. I love & agree with what you’re saying here! I do sometimes forget to evaluate what my 4 YO CAN do and need to periodically step back and think about it because he can do new things, for himself, ALL THE TIME. I took a local parenting class and the instructor suggested that kids should be fully functional contributing members of the household by age 9. So whatever tasks need to be completed (cleaning, laundry, birthday party prep, lawn care, packing up holiday decorations) to keep the house running smoothly, they should be 100% involved by 9. Yeah this class put a big line in the sand. Will we make it? I hope so. But I DO agree that having my kids engaged in the work of life a) gives them less time and energy to fight with each other (frequently a result of boredom) b) clearly established that they are valuable and valued members of the family and c) frees me up emotionally to be present for them.

  31. I loved this article. This is what my mom preaches whenever we get into a discussion about parenting and it is also the type of parent she was. Thank you! It’s definitely one to share.

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