By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
How many of you are interested in raising a 30-year-old Nintendo player? One who lies around your house all day eating cold pizza and sucking up diet Pepsi? If you are like the many parents who attend our parenting workshops, creating a 30-year-old video game player is not your goal. You are probably attempting to raise a responsible, caring, confident youngster who at sometime between the ages of 18 and 25 is capable of leaving home and living successfully on his or her own.
Raising a responsible young adult who can function effectively in the world does not happen by luck, coincidence, or magic. It occurs when parents set out to make it happen by working diligently throughout a child’s life to make themselves dispensable.
Below you will find 10 ways to make yourself dispensable in your child’s life. Each one will help you move closer to your goal of raising an independent, autonomous, fully functioning young adult.
(1) Believe that making yourself dispensable is your main job as a parent. If you believe that your job is to be needed and that your central role is to do for your children, you will have a difficult time implementing the ideas that follow.
Helping doesn’t always help. Sometimes it creates learned helplessness. When you do for your children things they can do for themselves, you are overfunctioning. Overfunctioning begins with the belief, “My children need me to do for them.” Change that belief to “My job is to help my children do for themselves.”
(2) If you want a behavior, you have to teach a behavior. If you want teenagers to do their own laundry, begin when they are in preschool. Teach preschoolers to send dirty clothes down the laundry chute or place them in the clothes hamper. When they are older, teach them to sort laundry into piles according to color. Later, help them learn how to fold it correctly and put it away. Still later, teach them how to use the washer and dryer. By the time they are teenagers, they can be doing it all.
Children do not naturally know how to bring in firewood, clean the fish bowl, set the table, dry the dishes, or take their own dishes to the sink after dinner. If you want a behavior, you have to teach a behavior. If you don’t, you could end up doing it all yourself.
(3) Use Parent Talk that supports your belief that children can do for themselves. Watch out for language that promotes learned helplessness. Examples include:
“Here, let me do that for you.”
“I’ll pay for it this time, but if it happens again, you’ll have to pay for it.”
“I’ll talk to your teacher for you and see if I can get her to change her mind.”
“It’s late so I’ll let it go this time.”
“I’ll fix it for you.”
“It was raining so I put your bike in the garage for you.”
This style of language is a clue that you could be overfunctioning and making yourself indispensable.
(4) Refuse to do for your children what they can do or learn to do for themselves. Do you do laundry for a teenager? Do you pack your fifth grader’s lunch? Do you tie the shoes and zip the coat of a six year old? Do you look up phone numbers for your fourth grader? If so, you could be overfunctioning. Remember, the more you function, the less your child has to.
(5) Refrain from answering for your child. We recently overheard a conversation where a friend approached a parent and child and spoke to the child, asking her a direct question: “How are you doing today, Maria?” The mother responded for the child, replying, “She’s not in a very good mood today.” The silent message delivered to the child was: “You don’t have to speak up for yourself. I will take care of you.”
When the doctor asks, “Why are you here today?” or the neighbor inquires, “What was your favorite birthday present?” or Grandma wants to know, “How do you like school this year?” stay out of it. Allow your child to answer for himself.
(6) Teach your children to ask for help. One way to do that is not to help them until they ask. Parents often rush in with help before the child has articulated a desire for help. Why would they ever need to ask for help if help always arrives without asking?
Teach your children the words to use when asking for help. Role-play with them so they can practice a few times. Empower them by teaching them this important skill.
(7) Make materials accessible. Use the lower shelves in cupboards for glasses, bowls, and silverware. Keep your children’s cereals and other relevant food items within their reach. Keep the chips and other occasional treats up high in your cupboards. If you set up your kitchen this way, your children do not have to come to you all the time for supplies.
Stock the lower shelves in the refrigerator with milk, juice, and other items that they use frequently. Keep markers, glue, paste, tape, paper and other appropriate art supplies within reach. Place the hot glue gun out of reach, of course.
(8) Teach children to solve their own problems. Do not say, “Don’t say anything to your mother. I’ll handle it for you. I know your mother well and I can catch her in a good mood.” All this teaches your child is that you see him as not capable of handling situations himself.
Instead, say, “You’re going to have to handle this with your mother. Let me teach you what I know. I generally try to catch her in the afternoon because she gets real busy in the morning. If she’s having a bad hair day, forget it. Also, she responds better if you make it sound like a suggestion rather than a demand. Hopefully, these tips will help. I know you can handle it. Let me know how you make out.” This style of speaking announces to your child that you believe in him and that you see him as capable.
(9) Your job is to give your children a system. Their job is to use it. Yes, buy your daughter a Taekwondo bag and teach her where all the equipment goes. When you buy it and teach her how to use it, your job is done. It is her job to use the system.
Teach your child how to organize his homework. His job is to organize it. Teach your child a system for respecting family books. His job is to use it.
(10) Refrain from rescuing children from experiencing the legitimate consequences of their actions. Do not rescue, save, bail them out, let them slide, accept excuses, or fail to hold them accountable for the choices they make. When you refuse to protect children from the choices they make, you allow them to take responsibility for their lives.
Raising responsible children is not an easy task. It takes effort, energy, and persistence. You can do it best when you purposefully take steps to make yourself dispensable