POST WRITTEN BY: ANTOINETTE STEIN
Encouraging my two-year-old to try potty training has been like trying to convince a lion to go vegan. Smugly he responds, “No! I’m the baby!” Like any two-year-old he is learning to assert his independence both in doing tasks on his own and choosing not to try something new. In many instances, I remind myself that children develop at their own pace but at times I wonder if I am hindering my children’s growth by being too helpful. When he wants me to feed him, although he is fully capable, or asks for help with his boots that he already put on 10 times that day is he asking me to meet an emotional need or is he choosing complacency? Does my helpfulness meet his needs or hinder his growth?
The answer to this question is complex. Many brilliant minds hotly debate whether children need empathy from nurturing adults or resolve with clear boundaries. As I reflected on my son’s “I’m the Baby” stage, I began asking myself what kind of man am I trying to raise. Then I took a long, hard look at my actions. Which of our interactions were empowering him? Which were stunting his growth?
As I began to evaluate my parenting in terms of raising a holistically mature man, I realized I needed to change some of my parenting habits. Slowly I am limiting my assistance in some areas. In other areas I am putting systems in place to empower him where growth is needed. While this process is deeply personal, based on children's personalities, family values, and the individual's interest and desires, there are some key components that help guide this process. Bear in mind that this is a process. As you and your children grow, your positions will probably change. Pursue these long-term goals with flexibility.
Know Your Family Values.
Intentional patenting starts with knowing what is important to you as a family and the kind of children you are trying to raise. Think about and prioritize the personality traits you and your spouse are trying to instill in the future generation. Are you trying to raise problem solvers, good citizens, strong leaders, peacemakers, creative minds, or team players? Knowing your priorities will help you evaluate how helpful your actions are.
Focus on the Individual.
Family values come to life as they are expressed by each individual family member. Take into account the strengths and interests of each person as you decide how to move forward. Helping independent children may be providing time and resources to allow them be successful. For example, leave your child enough time to autonomously put shoes on before leaving so neither of you are frustrated. Helping the more reserved children may mean practicing skills in private so they feel confident when asked to preform the skill.
Wait to Be Asked.
The greatest growth is often made through trials. Waiting until your children ask for help to offer assistance respects them and their growth process and creates healthy boundaries for you. It teaches them persistence and that their efforts are valued. It also gives you time to evaluate if your intervention is truly helpful.
Evaluate Your Actions.
Take a careful look at your actions. Which empower each child? Which lead to a state of fear, frustration, complacency, or callousness? Now look at why your actions help or hurt each child. Are your expectations developmentally appropriate? Does your child have sufficient skills, resources and time to accomplish the tasks? Are you doing things that your child is capable of doing? A little advance planning and training can take the frustration out of everyday tasks.
Look for Patterns.
My children will often ask for extra help when they are feeling sick, cutting teeth or had an emotionally difficult encounter. During these times I generally offer more assistance. Their actions tell me there is a need. Other seasons, a child’s request is more about control, complacency, or fears. During these seasons, it is important to set boundaries and provide training to take care of the child, the family and yourself.
Is Your Child Ready?
My older son decided he would no longer wearing diapers at 22 months. Motivated, he potty trained himself in 3 hours. My younger has no interest in potty training. Instead of push the issue, I am waiting until he is ready (or is his age indicates that he needs to learn). I believe waiting is respecting my son’s voice in this process and will help him take ownership over the process. Within reason, listen to your child before pushing something new.
Push In Appropriate Ways.
Changes are often met with resistance. Yet we can minimize the resistance by making a change with several gradual steps. For example, when teaching our children to clean up after dinner, you may start by having them put their plate in the sink, later add placing it in the dishwasher, next have them wipe the table. This slow transition allows them to master one task before moving on to the next.
Deciding when and how to help a child often means looking at the underlying reason your child wants help, the personality traits you are trying to develop in that child and how your actions help or hinder your child’s growth. Remember, you know your child well. Take time to think through the best ways to help your child and then move forward in confidence. You got this!