Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teaching Children To Do For Themselves

Collin with his Thanksgiving hat (and remnants of the preschool Thanksgiving feast around his mouth).

Fresh out of residency, my husband's first job was in a teaching hospital's emergency room.  As the staff physician, his role was to see his own patients while at the same time oversee his medical student and resident's patient care.  After several months on the job, my husband came home frustrated with the inefficiency of the ER.  He'd whine and declare, "It's just so much faster to do it myself."

As soon as I was a mom, I understood his frustrations.

The other morning my friend declared that she's on an independence kick with her kids.  She's striving to get her children to do things by themselves (without mommy's assistance) if they are capable of doing those skills or learning them.  What she said made sense to me and as we talked I vowed to make similar changes with my boys.  

I began to notice just how much I was doing for the boys that they could do for themselves.

"Mommy, can you grab my socks upstairs?"

"Pour my cereal in the bowl for me."

"Brush my teeth."

For some things, they could do it themselves, it was just easier to have mommy do it for them.  For other things, they needed to learn the skill (pouring milk into a cup) and I needed to take the time to teach them.

As expected, having children do things on their own is extremely inefficient.  I sat through an almost ten minute shoe-tying session that I could have easily whipped together in thirty-seconds.  It is messy.  The kitchen counters became littered with milk stains and cereal flakes from little boys learning the skill of breakfast making.  It is confrontational at times.  I had a heated stand off with one boy about whether or not he really could put his own pajamas into the laundry hamper.  (The whole time I was thinking it's taking longer to fight about it then actually do it!)

Just when I hit the point of exasperation, I thought about my mom talking about "big picture parenting."  She advised me that raising independent, solid children requires some painful short-term choices (inefficiency, mess, conflict) that will have good long-term benefits (independence).

So I continued on my quest to be a "hands off" parent, knowing they'll thank me for it later.  

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