Roots and Wings

roots wingsWhen we visited the kids in the spring, our granddaughter showed us how to operate their new washing machine. She pulled up a chair and demonstrated how much detergent to use, what buttons to push, and don’t forget to add a few drops of essential oil. Rachel is 4 years old. She also makes her bed, clears dishes from the table, ensures the cats have water and is expected to complete other chores. Her sister has fewer responsibilities. Allison, 18 months old at the time, put the soap tablet in the dishwasher with Mommy supervising.

How do we grow responsible and successful adults? And what does success mean? Is it acing the SAT’s and graduating cum laude from an Ivy League college? Age provides benchmarks, but there is no magic about chronology granting the necessary skills and abilities. How shall we train children in the way they should go? It starts early and it may be uncomfortable for adult and child alike. The job of a parent is to raise children to survive, thrive and eventually extend the favor to next generation. The future bride of your son is not going to appreciate that you raised a son to expect a clean house and meals on the table without his lifting a finger. Or that you reared a daughter who claims mathematical ineptitude; setting herself up for financial vulnerability. Well-intended coddling can generate a lifetime of problems.

When a baby is learning to walk, she will toddle and topple–multiple times. If you rush in to pick her up and carry her, are you doing any favors? Learning to walk has its dangers, but we accept small hardships because walking is an essential skill. Children will fall during the learning sequence. Likewise, growth involves a series of stumbles and recoveries. You fall, then pick yourself back up. If someone is always there to hand-hold, protect and rescue; a child fails to learn critical skills. When I encounter a problem, I don’t need to figure out a solution; I just need to wait for help. Psychologist Albert Bandura contributed to the theory of self-efficacy: believing in your capacity to reach goals, complete tasks, and manage situations. Self-efficacy is trusting yourself; its development is an essential life skill.

Dr Marty Rossman has studied the connection between chores and success. She defines success as completing an education, getting started in a career, having quality relationships, and avoiding drugs.

The best predictor of a child’s success as an adult is that they began helping with chores by age three or four. The study found that early participation in household chores was deemed more important in adult success than any other factor, including IQ.

We need to learn to look after ourselves. But, parents also need to expect that children will contribute to the well-being of the family and encourage a shift from the me to we mindset.  The following list summarizes age-appropriate chores. The slideshow at the link has more detail: I Did it All By Myself! An Age-by-Age Guide to Teaching Your Child Life Skills by Lindsay Hutton

Ages 2-3: small chores and basic grooming
Ages 4-5: safety skills, like important names and phone numbers
Ages 6-7: basic cooking
Ages 8-9: care for personal belongings
Ages 10-13: gaining independence like staying home alone, caring for siblings, using tools, shopping
Ages 14-18: advanced skills, like interviewing and getting a job, preparing and cooking meals, etc.
Young adults: taking charge of health care, finances, and major commitments and purchases like a car or lease

To retain learning, we must apply what we learn. The process requires teaching, then giving opportunities to practice. We gradually move from collaboration to independence. First, we do it for you. Then we do it with you. Next, we watch you do it. Finally, you do it alone. It’s not sink or swim, but it’s also learning to float without water wings. We do no favors when we set children up for helplessness.

Children can achieve high test scores and impressive diplomas without mastering adult skills. Unless your goal is to raise self-centered, well-educated adults who are unable to navigate the world independently, choose the harder right and ensure that your children develop mastery, autonomy and purpose. For more information on this topic, check out Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book, How to Raise an Adult, to ensure that your children are prepared for their future.

© Joan S Grey, 21 July 2015

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