3 Skills That Teach Resourcefulness

by | Feb 18, 2016 | Problem Solving, Conflict Resolution, Self-Reliance and Agency

Three crucial and teachable skills that help kids become self-reliant, resourceful and resilient.

Raising your child to become independent is among your most important parenting tasks. After all, one of your key goals is to help your son or daughter survive as well as thrive without your guidance. That means you must prepare your child to handle life so he or she can deal with anything that comes along. But what are the essential skills that will boost your kid’s independence? That’s where I can help.

As an educational psychologist for more than 30 years, mom of three, and author of several parenting books, including Don’t Give Me That Attitude!, I’ve seen what really does work when it comes to raising self-starters. (You know, those kids who don’t need us to solve their problems, rescue them from setbacks, and make excuses for them).

Below are three essential skills that your child needs to succeed on his own and how to teach them so he will. (Look for the next three crucial skills of raising a self-reliant, independent kid in the next post)


Skill #1. Teach brainstorming to solve problems

Your 5-year-old remembers minutes before the bus arrives that it’s “Red Sharing Day.” He panics and you see endless red things in the room that would solve his problem, pronto.

Now stop right there. Jumping in to fix your kid’s problems isn’t going to build his independence muscle; he’ll just learn to expect you to always pick up the pieces for him. It’s time to use a different approach: Teach your child how to brainstorm so he can solve his own problems. The best news is we can teach the skill when our kids are just toddlers!

So the next time your child has a problem, don’t be so quick to offer a solution. Instead, use this approach.

First, say to your child: “Tell me what’s bothering you.”  (You might need to help him find the words: “I can’t think of anything red to bring for sharing.”) Express your faith that he can work things out: “I know you’ll come up with a solution for your sharing.” Then encourage him to brainstorm ideas. “Don’t worry how silly your idea sounds. Just say it, because it may help your think of more red things to share.” “Your red hat: that’s one idea! Keep going I know you can name lots red things.”

What’ll likely happen, for instance, in the above scenario, is that your child will spot a few red things: a pencil, his jacket, the bright red apple in the kitchen. He puts the apple in his backpack, hugs you, and dashes out in time for the bus. The skill of brainstorming is learned, and your child’s independence quotient is boosted. You might even call it “The Solution Game;” just remind your child to use it whenever he encounters a problem.

Once he learns the skill, you can even challenge him to brainstorm solutions in a set time. It’s a fun way to help him learn to plunge into finding a solution instead of going into a panic about his problem. The more you challenge him, the quicker he’ll be in coming up with solutions.  “In a minute name as many ways as you can to tell Kevin to stop teasing.” or, “See how many places you can look for your mitt before the oven timer goes off.” With enough practice, your child will be able to use brainstorming to solve many troubling issues that creep up during the day without your help.

Skill # 2. Don’t rescue, but teach self-reliance

“Mooommm, you have to write me an excuse!” your daughter pleads. “I didn’t have time to do the book report and my teacher won’t let me go on the field trip if I don’t turn one in.”

That’s the situation Kelly, a 34-year-old mom of an 8-year-old, found herself in and wanted my advice. She admitted that she’d fallen in the trap of rescuing her daughter. “Now my child just expects me to save her,” she said.  “I sure can’t keep doing this the rest of her life. How do I turn this around?” she asked.

Have you found yourself rescuing your kids a lot lately? If so, it’s an easy habit to get into: “My son is so tired, I’ll do his homework tonight.” “My daughter is too busy, I’ll do her chores this time.” But if you want to raise an independent kid, these are major parenting “no-nos.” Always rescuing only makes your child dependent on you. So if your kid’s counting on you to get off her off the hook, you may want to try the following advice I gave Kelly.

Start by setting this rule: “We have a new policy: No more excuses. You need to take responsibility.” Then refuse to write one more illegitimate excuse, make one more call, or deliver another “little white lie.”

Next, is your child misplacing library books? Can’t find his sports gear? Losing teacher notes? Then it’s time to help her get organized. Chances are your child’s lack of organization is a big reason why you end up rescuing her. So identify the usual traumas and then say: “What can you do to solve it?” Your child just might put a shoebox by the door and even nickname it her “Book Catcher.” Just be clear about the purpose: “Your library book (or whatever item) goes in the box the minute you finish it.”

Does your kid use you as his personal Palm Pilot? If so, teach him to organize his schedule. It’s a skill he’ll need for managing his own life so he relies less on you. He might hang a calendar to note music lessons, field trips, sharing days, tests or use a refrigerator magnet to attach special notices. Even little ones can draw “picture” reminders.

Skill #3. Show how to make choices and weigh decisions

Your 9-year-year old, who agreed to a sleepover with a friend, is suddenly invited to a very popular kid’s birthday party the same night. Her friend isn’t invited. “Mom, what should I do?” she asks. And she wants you to make the decision for her.

Don’t do it!

It’s a mistake we too often make, and takes our children’s independence quotient down another notch. Instead help your child learn to make her own decisions.

Help your child think through possible outcomes to her choices so she’ll be in a position to make the best decision.

Asking the right questions often helps: “What might happen if you went to Jenna’s party?” “What do you see happening if you told your friend you were going to the party?”

Suggest to an older child: “List the pros and cons that might happen with each decision.”

By helping your child recognize that each decision has both good and bad points, she’ll learn to consider what might happen if she picked each possibility. Sure, the process can take time, but the more practice your child has making choices now, the better prepared she’ll be to face the more difficult dilemmas of adolescence on her own.  

I’ll share three more crucial skills in my next post. Remember, character is a trait that be nurtured. Character is also made up of crucial skills that can all be taught. These three skills not only will help your child be more resourceful and self-reliant, but also more success and resilient in handling every arena of his or her life. It’s all part of helping our kids grow to become capable, strong and responsible human beings!



Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

41rupTyQTWL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. You can also refer to my  blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news and research about child development.

My new book, UNSELFIE: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World will be in print June 2016. (Yahoo!) I’ve spent the last five years researching and writing this book as well as literally flying around the world to find the best ways we can activate our children’s hearts. My goal is to create a conversation that makes us rethink or view of success as exclusively grades, rank and score and includes traits of humanity! It’s filled with common-sense solutions based on the latest science to help us raise compassionate, caring, courageous kids. It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!

 Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba

Research for this blog was based on several chapters from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.