Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fostering Independent Kids, Part 1: You are not a slave

Since I sometimes have better things to do than cater to small demanding kids all day, I've quickly learned that the more I make my kids do, the less I have to do. I know, I'm a genius! Anyway, while my decision to figure out ways to do less and less for my kids is largely motivated by pure laziness on my part, I am also truly keeping my children's best interests at heart. They need to learn not only how to take care of themselves, but how to help out others and be productive members of a family and society. It's to their benefit to realize that unless they are wealthy enough to hire maids, (and they damn well better hire them for me, too) their current ones named Mom and Dad are not always going to be serving up their hot dogs, wiping their butts, and doing their laundry and dishes. 

I often see parents doing crazy amounts of things for their kids that the kids are perfectly capable of doing themselves. I don't understand why the parents do this, perhaps it's because they know that's it's faster to just do it themselves, or probably because they just don't realize that their 7-year-old is not an infant anymore. It's really easy to remain in the have-to-do-every-single-thing-for-them mode because it becomes so automatic. 

So leave it to me; I'm here to tell you that your kid is more than capable of doing things for, and cleaning up after, him/herself. Really! I witness it every day because I make my kids do pretty much anything they're capable of doing. They put their dishes in the sink, pick up their toys, get their own utensils, and get their own water and yogurts out of the fridge, and on and on. Short of frying up their own eggs and bacon in the morning, merely because they can't reach the stove, anything they ask me to do for them, if they can do it themselves, I tell them to - "Are your legs broken?" and "Do it yourself" are commonly spoken around this house. And who am I kidding, I don't even make eggs and bacon for them anyway. Their dad does; I'm too lazy.

To make the transition from being a slave an on-demand parent, follow this one simple step: the next time your child asks you to do something for them, before automatically snapping to it, stop and think, "Is this something they can actually do?" If it is, let them know that they can do it. This also applies to things you do for them that they don't ask you to do, like put their dishes in the sink or dishwasher. The next time you start to clean up after them, stop and ask yourself the same thing: "Is this something they should be doing?" I'm willing to bet their dad's left nut that it is. 

Now, you may encounter some resistance once the kids figure out that the new show you're running isn't exactly fun for them. But be strong, be firm, and don't waver! Find fun ways to turn tasks into a game, or for the particularly competitive child, a competition: "who can do it faster?".  Or you can always fall back on plain old taunting and shaming to get them to cooperate; it's one of my personal faves. Really though, your kids will actually feel better about themselves in the long run because they'll feel a sense of accomplishment and responsibility, instead of helplessness. Boost their confidence and sense of personal abilities, and use your newfound extra time to start a stamp collection. Or whatever floats your boat.

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon... learn to put your kids to work for you! 

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