Sunday, February 14, 2010


"A child must have respect from his parents to be himself. This does not, of course, mean no limit-setting or being permissive....It means to encourage a child to think, to be spontaneous, to realize he is a separate person who must assume more and more responsibility for himself." Ross Campbell: How to Really Love Your Child.

How do you bring up a child to "assume more and more responsibility for himself"? The first sentence in this week's quote is the place to start. "A child must have respect from his parents to be himself." Children need to know their parents have confidence in them and trust them. Being trusted and taking responsibility for one's self are connected, one produces the other.
Many teenagers today in all cultures of the western world are growing up without going through this process. They do not have parents who trust them and in turn are not growing up to be responsible or take responsibility for themselves. Being responsible is the outworking of taking responsibility for one's self. Maybe you as an adult feel you missed out on this experience in your childhood.
A child who does not know, feel or believe their parents trust or have confidence in them, is likely to take on some of the following patterns.
* Ignore parent instructions in teenage years. This often causes parents to be more insistent or demanding of their children, and if the pattern doesn't alter, results in huge divisions between child and parent. It can even lead onto more serious problems.
* Live secretive lives, accomplishing what they know their parents disapprove of. This results in an increasing deterioration of the child/parent relationship, and increasing resistance to listen to parents. This second habit occurs because the child's success builds up a block against seeing any need for following the wishes of parents. Teenagers can then cut themselves loose from the family, often prematurely claiming an unhealthy independence.
* Stay "tied" to their parents. Even as young adults they can feel they need parental clearance on things they should decide about themselves. These people are failing to live in their own world.
* Enter adulthood with poor life skills, a lack of confidence in themselves, rarely able to establish or develop relationships with people around them.
Some parents are fearful as their children grow into teenagers. In their minds they re-live their own pasts when they were teens. If fear takes control, parents can become possessive or dictatorial in the attempt of preventing their children from making the same mistakes.
Being trusted by parents is essential because it is the way a child learns to become responsible, firstly for himself and then in his community.
How then does a parent start trusting their child? Children learn to be responsible for themselves by being shown how to do a task, eventually taking ownership for it, and through practice it becomes automatic. Being human there will regularly be times of complaint. This in itself is another topic for another time.
* a 2 year old putting away certain toys.
* a 3 year old helping set the table.
* a 4 year old washing up the cutlery.
* a 6 year old making coffee.
* an 8 year old writing down detailed phone messages.
* a 10 - 12 year old cooking a simple meal.
* a 14 year old mowing the lawn.
* a 15 year old being responsible to do their own laundry.
* a new licensed driver navigating themselves across the city.
You may need to teach the skill first and then be "around" and eventually you will be able to ease out. The responsibility is to stretch or challenge them (therefore the skill should be just outside their abilities), not be viewed as a bore by the child.
It is important to remember that they are learning responsibility and will make mistakes. But by making mistakes young and learning the consequences of these mistakes, they are equipped to handle the next greater responsibility. Through these experiences, it is highly likely that a child will move into adulthood being more responsibile.
As we give such responsibility to our children, we demonstrate that we trust them. They in turn learn skills and grow in self confidence. Watching all this, we as parents go on to trust them in more demanding areas of life.
What do you think?
THIS WEEK WITH THE KIDS demonstrate you TRUST your child by teaching them a skill, and start on the road to creating a more responsible child.

After putting up this post, I realized I had not addressed the situation of parents with adult children. I think that even at this stage a change for the better is possible.
As for a young child, the parent with adult children must start by thinking about the first sentence in the quote above.
The solution for parents with adult children is found in working together on something - BBQing the meat together, setting up for a party together, making food together... It's not simply being together as in shopping together, being at the beach together... It needs to be a situation where THE ADULT CHILD HAS FULL DECISION POWER - they can make the salad however they wish, set up the party tables to their own liking... So it must be an area you are WILLING TO GIVE THEM FULL REIGN. They may of course ask your opinion... but you need to tell them you fully trust their judgement, or know they have lots of flair in that area...go right ahead...
If you find this all extremely difficult, think on your adult child as your most talented, respected friend. You would willingly hand over the job to them, praise them, telling them how you never could have coped without them.... So treat your adult child in the same way.
Hopefully your first attempt will be a great success and you will quickly be trying to figure out how to get them involved with you on something else - soon.

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