Have we become a nation of parents obsessed with doing everything for our kids to ensure they’ll turn out right? A number of experts are suggesting it’s time for parents to loosen their grip, relax hardcore parenting styles and let their kids be kids again. A hot debate is brewing among parents and sides are forming: Over-parenting vs. Free Range.
But what is the right amount of “loosening”? How do we know what is too much or just right for our kids? I was asked to weigh in as the parenting expert on that very issue on a Dr. Phil segment. (My favorite part is when Dr. Phil holds up a copy of my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, and says every parent should have a copy — the Dr. Phil show even uses it as a parenting reference. Fingers crossed they don’t cut that part out!! 🙂 Here are a few tips I gave to the moms both on and off the show.
Where does our parenting styles come from?
Let’s face it, every parent parents differently and we (really truly) parent each of our kids a bit differently. Our “choice” of parenting styles comes from largely three factors:
1. Our temperament (so if you’re a bit anxious you’re going to parent a bit more anxiously; and if you’re more laid back you’ll parent more laid back). It’s hard to change your temperament. But you can be aware of how you respond to your child and tune in a bit closer to see if that response is effective or needs a bit of altering.
2. Our own upbringing and how we were parented. Some parents swear they’ll never parent like their parents parented them. But the new research suggests that the majority of moms actually are more likely to copy their own child-rearing. It is dads who are more likely to venture off and differently how they were parented. (I admit I was a bit shocked to read that finding myself).
3. The culture in which we are raising your children. If you live in a highly-competitive neighborhood where parents compare their children’s grade points and S.A.T.s, it’s tough bucking the pressure. You live in a neighborhood where a known sex offender lives down the street, you’re going to hold on a lot tighter to your children.
But how do you know if your style is right for your child? I worked with Dr. Phil to create definitions of “Over-parenting” vs. “Under-parenting.” Here is what Dr. Phil and I came up with:
If your involvement INHIBITS abilities at your child’s level of development, then you’re over-protective.
If your involvement pushes your child BEYOND abilities at your child’s level of development, then you’re too passive.
The trick is to weigh which style works best for your child and situation. In some cases a parent has to be over-protective ( you’re in a high-risk neighborhood, your child has an impulsive temperament and needs you to be the brake system, he’s hanging around kids who are engaging in risky behavior). Any parent with more than one kid has figured out some children (via their temperaments) need more or less structure. My concern is when a parent goes to TOO much of the extreme in the parenting style. The parent is TOO over-protective or TOO passive.
Use the Rubber Band Test to help set the right expectations
The expectations we set for our children do affect their self-esteem and capacity to succeed. Dr. Phil asked me what advice I had for a mom who was clearly in “Helicopter Mode” — how could she scale back and change her Black Hawk Mode ways? And how, he asked, would she know if she’s pushing too hard or not enough?
I offered the mom my Rubber Band Test. Here it is along with five simple steps to help you realign your expectations to your child’s capabilities.
Pick up a good strong rubber band. Hold it firmly at both ends with two hands. Now consider your own list of expectations for your child. For everything that doesn’t appear to be a good fit (like you expect him to be a great defensive cornerback and he’s more into playing chess), then pull the band more tightly. For everything that seems more natural (like your daughter love to sing so you’ve just bought her a guitar) then let the band relax a little.
Think every expectation you’re placing on your child. If the band gets so taunt it’s in danger of snapping, you and your kid are in trouble. Your goal is to be sensitive with the necessary match of who your kid really is and what you want him to be.
To make sure the expectations you set for your children are ones that stretch their potential without unintentionally zapping their self-worth go through check these four categories for each task:
- Developmentally Appropriate. Is my child developmentally ready for the tasks I’m requiring or am I pushing him beyond his internal timetable? Learn what’s appropriate for your child’s age, but still keep in mind that developmental guidelines are not etched in stone. It’s always best to start from where your child is.
- Realistic. Is my expectation fair and reasonable, or am I expecting too much? Realistic expectations stretch kids to aim higher, without pushing them beyond their capabilities. Be careful of setting too high of standards. Putting your child in situations that are too difficult, puts him in the risk of failing and lowering his feelings of competence.
- Child Oriented. Is what I’m expecting something my child wants, or is it something I want more for myself? We all want our kids to be successful, but we have to constantly be wary of setting goals for our kids that are our dreams, and not those of our kids.
- Success Oriented. Am I sending the kind of expectations that tell my child I believe he’s responsible, reliable, and worthy? Effective expectations encourage kidsto be their best, so that they can develop a solid belief in themselves.
The trick is to give your child limits at the early stages of his life so he can manage his behavior (self-control and self-discipline are big keys to success), and then you gradually ease those limits until your child can learn to live without you. Your goal is to stretch your child with your expectations but at a level that won’t snap his spirit.
Tips to help you back off from over-parenting
Of course we don’t want our kids to fail and of course we always want them to be successful, but always doing, picking up, or mending fences for our kids sure won’t help them learn to bounce back and survive on their own. Look down the road at the big picture. If you keep on with any hovering behavior now, how will your kids turn out later? Every once in a while, fast forward your parenting and think ahead. It just may help you alter you current response with your kids.
Here are a few parenting practices from my latest book The Big Book of Parenting Solutionsthat you may want to adopt in your day-to-day family life to help your kids become more resourceful and self-reliant that I shared.
1. Identify what your child can do alone and then gently back off
What tasks might your child be capable of doing instead of relying on you? Maybe it’s time for him to learn to make his own lunch, do laundry, make his bed, call to make his dentist’s appointments, Of course, this will depend on your child’s age, maturation, and current capabilities. The goal here isn’t to overwhelm him by piling on new your expectations, but gradually introduce one new task at a time. Your one new rule is this: NEVER DO FOR YOUR CHILD WHAT YOUR CHILD CAN DO FOR HIMSELF. (Repeat it outloud ten times then write it in on your mirror!)
2. Stop rescuing
Have you found yourself rescuing your kids a lot lately? “My son is so tired, I’ll do his homework tonight.” “My daughter is too busy, I’ll do her chores this time.” It’s an easy habit to get into, but if you want to raise a resilient kid, these are major mother “no-nos.” Start by setting this rule: “We have a new policy: No more excuses. You need to take responsibility.”
3. Boost organizational skills so your child won’t use you as his palm pilot
Is your child misplacing library books? Can’t find his sports gear? Losing teacher notes? Chances are your child’s lack of organization is a big reason why you end up rescuing her. So when there’s another trauma, ask instead: “What can youdo to solve it?” For instance, if your child forgets to return his library book every Wednesday, he might hang a calendar to his due date as well as music lessons, field trips, sharing days, tests. Even little ones can draw “picture” reminders. Learning organizing is a skill your child will need for managing his own life so he relies less and less on you as time goes by.
4. Teach brainstorming so your child can solve problems without you
The next time your child has a problem, don’t be so quick to offer a solution. Instead, teach him how to brainstorm options. 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 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 things to share.” You might even call it “The Solution Game;” just remind your child to use it whenever he encounters a problem.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.
5. Teach how to negotiate
Do your children constantly expect you to be the negotiator and solve their battles? Wrong move if you want your kids to be able to solve their own battles. Your new tactic: Teach your kids how to negotiate so when the next war breaks out you can tell your darling cherubs to work it out on their own. Here’s how.
First, explain the new skill: “You need to learn to negotiate. That’s when you agree to work out a deal so you’re both are happy.”
Next, teach your kids a few old but good ‘deal breakers’ such as “rock, paper, scissors”, drawing straws, flipping a coin, or the rule: “Who went first last time, goes last this time.” Oven timers are also great for reducing squabbles. Just show your kids how to set it, and it can be a great sanity saver. “I’m setting the timer for five minutes, but when it goes off it’s my turn to play.”
And finally: Don’t forget to set clear ‘negotiation behavior’: “You must take turns listening to each other without interrupting, and no put-downs. Only calm voices are allowed.” Then start practicing using the skill as a family. Not only will it help your child learn a skill I guarantee he’ll need in every arena of life, but you may also discover greater peace on the home front.
6. Talk about their future regularly
Encourage your kids to think beyond the here and now: going away to camp, changing schools, college, living in an apartment, career choices. Discussing your children’s lives in the future can be part of your dinner table conversations. Sure they can change their minds (and majors), but the goal is to help your child think towards the future and realize someday he really won’t be living with you.
One more hint: researchers are seeing this phenomenon of “parental hovering” as more than just a trend—it’s here to stay. I see a huge red flag in the behavior: keep the hovering and you rob the child of an essential trait for L.I.F.E. called self-reliance! Watch out—you may not be aware that you’re guilty of that behavior. The key is to keep in mind it’s never really one event that influences our children (the one lecture, the one family vacation, even the one mommy meltdown) but the consistent way we respond to our kids day after day after day. So if you’re always rescuing, stepping in, helping out, advising, suggesting or doing, think how those responses impact your child.
Remember the Navaho Proverb: “We raise our kids to leave us.” Sigh. But true! (And take it from me, it goes by so fast!! Double sigh!)