Posted by: coachingparents | July 13, 2008

Self-Directed Children


By Tara Paterson

One complaint I often hear from parents is how their tween or teen lacks responsibility with regard to picking up after themselves; managing their homework; or taking care of other household or personal responsibilities they might have.  I have to admit, this is a challenge I often have with my husband; so how can we assist our children with developing self directed habits which will also impact their choices when it comes to drugs, alcohol, and sex?

To begin with parents need to set boundaries; and parents, not as they approach their tween or teen years, but when they are young.  Define parameters for your child they can feel comfortable within, boundaries you explain so they understand the reason for them, but which also allows them room to grow.  Children, like adults, don’t like to feel restricted from natural growth and expression.  Children have a very strong need, a biochemical reaction in their body, that needs to be expressed in independent and creative ways.  Often times parents set stringent boundaries out of their own personal fear.  An example I see often whether with clients or friends is the fear of allowing a toddler to climb the stairs.  News flash, they need to learn how to do it and if you stand back and give them room to explore how they will manage such a feat, not only are you building their confidence, but you are giving them the space they need to grow.

Freedom within limits is a very powerful tool in teaching children to self-direct.  Some children will have the natural ability to do this while others will need more hands on parental guidance.  The key is for you, the parent, to tune in intuitively to the needs of your child.  As a child matures into each new stage of development, expand the boundaries so they continue to have room to grow.  When they are old enough to do certain things, let them do it.  Homework is a great example.  By giving your child freedom of choice when it comes to their homework, they develop life long habits which will prepare them for the more difficult experiences such as high school and college.  If your child doesn’t do his work, allow the natural consequences to take effect.  If your child is one that does not like to disappoint a teacher or parent and they fail to do their homework which results in missing recess or having to do it in the principal’s office, the natural consequence will have a great enough impact which will remind them to get it done next time.  If you add to the shame by getting angry or showing your disappointment, they will be less willing to make sure it’s done the next time. Another way to handle grades is to let your child know you care if their grade drops and you would like them to do better, but refrain from getting mad and making a big deal about it.  Empower your child to work harder for themselves, not for you. It is human nature to rebel against what someone else wants; show them how they benefit and I guarantee you will see a shift in the way they approach things.

By setting reasonable limits and expanding boundaries as your child grows, you show them you respect them, trust their abilities and you build their confidence for the choices they will be faced to make.  Allowing natural consequences to occur, they will feel safe enough to come to you if they make the wrong choice and they will understand they have to take accountability and face the music.  As parents it is not our job to prevent our children from going through their experiences in life.  In order to teach children to take responsibility for their actions, they need to be allowed to make choices and self direct their decisions.  Prepare them for the bigger challenges they will face like drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and sex so they will feel confident in making better, healthier choices.  Remember, show them why they benefit from their decision.

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