January 14 2016

Principal’s Message Jan. 13, 16

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6

One problem I have fairly consistently seen in Hong Kong is that children, even teenagers, seem to not be able to do things for themselves and they rely on others to do things for them. It seems that parents and helpers have become so good at helping their children, that the children can no longer help themselves. While we should help our children; if we are taking away their ability to do things for themselves, while their life may be easier initially, in the long run we are doing our children a big disservice.

Child behaviour specialist and author, Janet Lehman, gives the following advice to parents in relation to finding out if they are doing too much for their child, and how to change if they are:

As parents, many of us do things for our kids that we were able and expected to do for ourselves when we were children. Our parents didn’t often feel the need to negotiate with our sports coach, solve our every problem, or entertain us in our free time. A big difference from today, when all too often we are over-involved in many areas of our children’s lives. Sounds funny, I know. How can a parent be too involved or do too much for their child? Isn’t that just being a good parent? But when we don’t expect our kids to take responsibility for chores or their behavior, and we attempt to smooth away all the bumps and bruises that are a natural part of childhood, we aren’t doing our kids a favor. Instead, we’re bringing them up to avoid taking personal responsibility and to expect that others will take care of things for them – even when they are really able to take care of themselves. We’re teaching our kids that life is full of unmanageable problems, when what we want them to learn are the basic skills to manage those problems. Stepping back and taking on the role of coach and teacher instead of “doer” and “fixer” was one of the hardest things I had to do as a parent. But as my husband James Lehman said, it is also one of the best things you can do to help your child build their social and problem-solving skills and learn responsibility.


Recognizing When You Are Over-Doing

In my practice, parents would often ask me: How do I know when I am doing too much for my child? How do I recognize it? You’ll know if:

  1. You feel more pain than your child seems to;
  2. When your child is refusing to do even the simplest chore;
  3. When you realize that you’ve lost perspective about what to expect from your child.

Think of it this way. When you come home after having to work late and find that your daughter’s home-work isn’t finished (again) and your son is sulking because he argued with a friend, ask yourself these five questions before you do anything:

  • Are you fighting the same battles over and over and getting no further ahead?
  • Whose chore is it? Mine or my child’s?
  • Whose problem is it?
  • Who should be responsible for getting it done?
  • What do I usually do in these situations? Do I swoop in, taking care of everything (over-doing)?

If you come to the realization that the chore (or the problem or responsibility) is your child’s and that your typical response is to over-do, then it’s time to step back and find a different approach. This doesn’t mean that you have been a bad parent; it just means that you’ve taken on too much of what belongs to your child. It also doesn’t mean that you don’t love your child – you do – but now it’s time to try a more effective way to help them grow up.


Coaching, Not Doing

Hands-on involvement – as a coach and teacher – will help your child develop the skills they need to face new or disliked tasks and to overcome obstacles. If your basically disorganized primary school son really needs to clean his room, he likely needs your involvement to learn how to effectively do this. When you work alongside him instead of doing the work for him, you can teach him along every step of the way (something especially important for younger children). Your son likely would be lost without this type of hands-on involvement; with it, he learns what’s needed to accomplish the task. Maybe your middle school daughter has proclaimed her hatred of assigned summer reading. You can offer to also read the book so that you can talk about it together, discussing her perceptions and what you both found interesting. By doing so, you are showing her that reading can be enjoyable and you are helping her think through her book report without doing the work for her. Both examples incorporate the parental teaching and coaching role. By doing with instead of for, you are spending time with your child while also developing their abilities and building their character. It’s a win/win for you both.


What Happens When We Over-Do for Our Children

Your child learns the wrong lesson – how to avoid unpleasant tasks or challenges instead of facing them. By getting you to do things for them, your child learns to manipulate others instead of how to take responsibility for his or herself.

Children begin to underestimate their abilities. If your son or daughter has never tried new or difficult things, they won’t know how to start or how to pick themselves up and try again. They’ll think they can’t do it.

You will be exhausted and not have accomplished much in the long-run. Yes, the dishes may be done quickly and up to your standards, but what did your son learn? Yes, the laundry was done, but when your daughter goes off to a far-away college next year, who will do her laundry then?

Protecting your child from life’s knocks comes at a cost. Children need to learn to manage setbacks, which they won’t if we always shelter them. As tempting as it is to be the one to negotiate with the coach for more playing time, what will your child do when they’re on a team where the coach expects direct communication from the players? How will your child learn to speak for him or herself?


Difficult Moments = Opportunities for Growth

Facing challenges are great opportunities for kids to grow and mature. Yes, it’s painful to observe our child going through difficult times. As parents, we want to make this stop. Our tendency is to want to jump in and fix things. But, this is when it’s most important that we step back and not step in. Take on the role of teacher and coach, supporting your child through the difficulty, while letting them discover their own capabilities. Remember, learning to manage obstacles in life makes us all stronger people. If we step in, we stop the learning process and run the risk of stunting our child’s growth. We prevent our child from developing the courage needed to try new things, even when it is hard or they might not succeed.

I see this as a “right” of growing up – to learn from our problems and become stronger, more capable people. If you take over and don’t allow your children to come up with their own solutions and discover their strengths, you may be preventing them from finding their path to resiliency. It’s the difficult twists and turns in life that often teach us the most about how strong we really are. These experiences and the learning that comes with them are essential to becoming responsible and capable adults.

Obviously, we can’t just let go completely as parents. We need to make sure that our children are safe and protected, and have the skills to manage the problems that come their way. This often takes planning on our part, along with awareness of how our child learns and what support they need. It also takes some trust in our child’s abilities to do more for his or herself – not always easy, I know.