If you give a child a fish, you feed them for a day;
if you teach a child to fish, you feed them for a lifetime;
but if you teach a child to learn, you feed them for a lifetime
and they don’t have to just eat fish.
- Tim Gallwey, creator of the Inner Game series
Ahh… You’re on vacation and your family is (mostly) getting along. Mom and dad are taking a breather from work and both are almost able to relax. And even though most of you are still checking your Blackberrys and iphones too often, things are going pretty well.
But right around the corner is “back to school” and “back to work” and “back to stress.” One of the most stressful things can be helping your child successfully make the transition back to school and in all likelihood they are not going to be the best sports about it are not “going to go gently into that good car pool or bus.”
What is your role as a parent? I would vouch to say that it is to prepare your child to reach age 18 and be confident, focused, passionate, persevering, patient, resilient, goal-oriented and to handle disappointment and frustration well. Probably most of all it is to teach your child good judgment and the ability to make good decisions especially when they are under pressure.
If developing good judgment is the outcome you’re seeking, what is the best way to interact with your children that results in that? And just as importantly, what are the ways you interact with them and act around them (monkey see, monkey do) that prevent them from developing it?
Clearly if you do things for your child that they should learn to do for themselves you will not only prevent them from developing judgment, you will also prevent them from developing self-reliance, resourcefulness, courage and commitment. And when their peers from India, China and Brazil — who have developed all these qualities — become their bosses, you will prevent your children from being promotable or possibly even hirable.
If you tell them what to do, you will not cripple them as much as if you do it for them, but they will become dependent on you and not develop self-reliance.
If however, you believe in them more than your anxious need to be in control, if you ask them what they think they should do and why and if finally you tell them to give it a try and report back, that will teach them self-reliance, independence and judgment.
Why does your being on a vacation have to do with this?
You have the chance while you’re on a walk or driving casually (vs. their rushing to school and your rushing to work) to talk with your children instead of at them.
And when you do, ask them questions with sincere curiosity about hypothetical situations in the future such as:
“Which of your friends goes too far and wouldn’t surprise you if they got into a lot of trouble this year?” And after they answer, don’t tell them not to be their friends; instead ask them, “Why do you think they’ll get into trouble?” And then after they answer, merely say, “Hmm, that makes sense. Maybe if you’re a good friend, you might be able to help them with that. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.”
“Which of your subjects do you think you have to stay on top of the homework and which do you think you could do at the last minute if you had to?” And then when they answer that, again say, “Hmm, makes sense to me.”
With such questions you are planting the seeds in them to: a) thinking ahead; b) developing judgment.
You can actually say to your children (over the age of 12) that one of your main roles as a parent is to prepare them to be effective and successful and happy in the world by doing any and everything that results in their becoming at age 18 Child A below and avoid doing any and everything that would result in their child becoming Child B below. Ask them if they understand and agree with that. Then ask them what they think you need to do and not do so that you help them to become Child A and then you can tell them what you think you need to do and why.
Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of your vacation.
Please share in the comments your approaches to teaching your child self-reliance, resourcefulness, independence, resilience and judgment.
To learn how to be a better communicator, check out: “Just Listen” (Amacom, $24.95)