I found myself flipping through daytime TV the other day and landed on an episode of Dr. Phil. What caught my attention was a mother and father begging Dr. Phil for advice on how to get their 37 year old adult son out of their home. Their son worked part time for a local pizza shop, and played video games the rest of the time. There were no extenuating circumstances, no disabilities, no necessary reason for their adult son to still be at home. These parents were at their wits end. This was the real-life version of the Matthew McConaughey movie "Failure to Launch." Unfortunately I was not able to finish the episode, but it got me thinking - Isn’t it obvious? Don’t they know where they went wrong? The more I thought, the more I realized the answer isn’t so obvious.
As parents all we want for our kids is the best. We want them to be happy, and have a life better than the one we had. Each day we do the best we can. Days turn into weeks, months into years, and suddenly we too could be like the couple on Dr. Phil wondering where we went wrong? Why didn’t our son become independent, successful, capable? The truth is, parenting is hard. It is. It takes effort. It takes time. It takes consistency. No one wants to be the “bad guy” and say “no you can’t go to a party, or no you can’t drive alone with your friend”- but giving in and saying “yes” all the time isn’t the answer either. Don’t fall into the trap of “I wish my parents would have given me X.” If there is something you wished your parents gave you, check-in with your kid to see if it is something they would like and if so create a way for them to earn it. For example, if do your weekly chores for the next month without my reminding, you can have that new X-Box game; or if you maintain a B+ average in school this semester you can get that new iPhone.
Here are 5 ways to help raise capable kids:
Set Limits - When you tell your child, “no you may not have a cookie”- mean it. Follow through. Do not give in when the crying starts. If you set a boundary by saying no, then stick to it. This helps teach kids where the boundaries lie, and what the rules of the house are. Rules and boundaries provide comfort, security, and help kids learn a sense of right and wrong.
Help with Contributions - Some people call them chores, but I like to call them contributions. Contributions are ways of helping around the home. Children are active members of the house and need to participate in taking care of their world. Of course this can be scaled to age appropriateness, but your teenager certainly can be setting and clearing a table, doing their own laundry, and cleaning their own room. I like to have these household tasks not contingent to money or an allowance. Kids need to learn to take care of their space because it’s the right thing to do- not because there is a reward at the end. As adults they will take better pride in their home, school, and earth because helping is a good thing to do.
Volunteer - In this media driven age, it’s so easy for all of us to get caught up in the hustle of life. We can become egocentric and hyper focused on our life and not on the world around us. Teenagers can easily become annoyed that their fancy coffee order is wrong, and miss out on the real struggles happening in the world. While formal volunteer organizations like a Soup Kitchen or Hospital are great, you can start as simple as helping a neighbor rake leaves or mow their lawn. Volunteering will help kids learn to put others needs before their own, and keep them humble to the blessing in their own life.
Let Them Stumble - If you are always there to swoop in and solve their problems how will they learn to do it themselves? It is important to sometimes take a step back and let your child face the consequences of their actions. Consequences can sometimes be small: they forgot their coat on a chilly day and had to go without it, or they forgot their backpack at school and have to take a lower grade because the work was not turned in on time. Our own anxiety from watching our kids stumble makes us want to jump in and save them. While it’s important to keep your kids safe from harm, allowing them to experience the natural consequences of life will greater prepare them to be responsible in the future.
Start Early - Do not wait until your child is 37 years old to start setting limits, or contributing to your household. You can begin as early as the toddler years. Toddlers are great a testing limits, and you can get good practice setting boundaries just by keeping them safe. “No, you cannot play with that electrical cord”. A “time-out” can also be used as a consequence for not following your limit. You may be reading this panicked about your teenager- but never fear- it’s not too late to start. Keep your contributions and volunteer activities age appropriate- be creative. Something as simple as making breakfast in bed for a child’s sibling can be a good start.
If you are struggling with limit setting, or want to learn more about getting your child to help with contributions - Hope Therapy Center can help. With specializations in children and teens, we are happy to help you navigate the difficult world of parenting and help you raise capable kids.
Photo by Sharon Mccutcheon