Are we inadvertently creating dependent children?

What I learned from the gas station

The other day, my tire pressure light came on in my car. In general, I am really good at playing the helpless card for all things car related. Car issues are not something I’ve ever been interested in resolving myself. Truth be told, when my “check oil” light comes on, I go to the gas station and say, “I think my car needs oil?” as if I don’t really know for sure. This leads to the nice mechanic offering to check and fill up my oil for me. I always take him up on his offer to help.

For whatever reason, this time, I saw that light on my dashboard and decided I could solve this issue on my own. I pulled into the gas station, opened the glove box and found the manual for my car. Only later did it occur to me that I could have Googled the answer much faster. I Google everything else — why wasn’t that my first strategy? I guess I’m old fashioned at heart and certainly would have made my maternal grandfather proud that I have and used the manual in my car.

Tire Pressure

Not only did I have the manual, I had a tire gauge in my glove box as well. After checking the book, I realized I needed my tires to be 38 psi (which I also learned means pressure per square inch). I checked all four tires and they all needed air. Not knowing how much air would fill the tire, I filled the first for about five seconds and then checked it again. It needed more. I continued adding little bits at a time for fear that my tire would explode. A little air, check the tire gauge. A little more, check again. I repeated this pattern until it read 38 for all four tires.

Driving out of the gas station with the tire indicator light now off, I felt like a bad ass. My sense of self worth was high. And I wanted to share my new talent with others. I would have been excited if someone had pulled up and needed help with their tires – I was now a pro.

This was the reminder I needed to give my kids opportunities to obtain the same sense of satisfaction. The satisfaction that comes from not knowing something, learning, trying, and accomplishing what you set out to do. It is often so much easier to do something for them or simply avoid a task altogether. However, if our kids never have a chance to learn something, practice trial and error, get it wrong, and figure out how to make it right, it’s naive to think they will develop these skills. They won’t. And a big part of the problem is us.

Growth Mindset

I’m listening to Julie Lythcott-Haim’s book, How To Raise an Adult – Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, and reading Growth Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. Both have me doing a lot of thinking about how I can better support my kids in becoming independent, capable, hard working, problem solving type children. Dweck says, “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, seek new strategies, and keep on learning.” She goes on to talk about praise, an issue I will dive into more soon. The quick takeaway is to praise effort, not ability or intellect.

Lythcott-Haim says, “Kids learn and grow, precisely by trying new things. Being allowed to fail, picking themselves up and trying again.” This has me thinking — am I letting my kids try new things? Am I letting them fail? Or am I always jumping in to rescue?

Language Shift

Being more cognizant of this issue, I have been working on ways to adjust my language:

  • When one of my kids is struggling with something, I offer support for the feeling INSTEAD of trying to solve their problem for them: That sounds really frustrating. Then stay silent! If needed, I might offer, What is your plan for figuring that out?
  • If one child is telling on the other I might say, Have you told him how that makes you feel?
  • When Grace comes to me for praise for something like getting dressed on her own, I might say, Doesn’t that feel good to be able to get dressed independently? Or I bet you worked hard to get dressed on your own. Way to stay with it until you got it!
  • If Keener isn’t giving Grace a turn, I encourage her to solve that problem for herself. You sound really disappointed. What might you try next?

And of course, we are always modeling. This has been a good reminder to be vulnerable and open with our kids. Let them see us struggle with something, whether it’s a new recipe or not being able to unscrew the cap on the baby food. Let them see us be challenged, stay with it, and try out different strategies. We need to talk about and highlight the fact that what we tried first didn’t work.

But most of all, we need to stop ourselves from jumping in. I could have let the mechanic fill my tires with air like I do my oil. However, I would have deprived myself of the learning opportunity and subsequent feeling of accomplishment that followed. I would still be clueless and dependent on someone else instead of independent and capable. We must allow our kids the opportunity to fill their own tires with air. If they need help finding the tire gauge, manual, or air pump, show them where they can find the resources they need. However, resist the temptation to be the mechanic. Create independence, not dependence, so children start to see challenges as opportunities to learn.

4 comments

  1. Excellent examples of why it’s absolutely essential to provide kids with an opportunity to perform tasks or solve problems that they are capable of doing. It fosters responsibility and promotes confidence that may enhance independence. It also communicates a strong message that the child is “lovable and capable” as you inspire them to problem solve and look within for solutions. Self-concept enhancement is a definite by product. Anyone for adding air pressure to their vehicle’s tires?

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