Stop Sabotaging Your Child’s Success
How to help kids feel competent and resourceful.
Posted Nov 22, 2019
Parents often ask, “Why aren’t my kids more like me?” “Why aren’t they organized, motivated, or better at accomplishing goals?” The answer may be simpler that you think.
By the time many adults are parents of middle or high schoolers, they’ve mastered skills like planning, problem-solving, and organizing. With more life and work experience, it becomes obvious these skills are necessary for success.
But success as a parent is different than success in the workplace. In a career, these skills help you stand out from co-workers. They help you climb the ladder of success.
At home, the same skills can sabotage your child’s success. How?
In my parent coaching practice, I talk with many successful parents who struggle to understand why their pre-teens and adolescents are not motivated and don’t know how to accomplish even the smallest of goals.
The reality is that some parents are so good at being resourceful that they have inadvertently taken over that role in the family. As a result, children don’t learn to become planners, organizers, and problem-solvers. Instead, they become dependent on their parent’s strengths to do these tasks for them.
Many researchers refer to this problem as “helicopter parenting.” A recent study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that this type of parenting was linked to a child’s low mastery skills, poor self-regulation, feelings of social incompetence, and depression.
What is Resourcefulness? Why is it Vital to Your Child’s Success?
Resourcefulness is our ability to find and use available resources to achieve goals, problem-solve, and shape the future.
Research shows that our ability to be resourceful individuals determines and shapes our futures. What parent doesn’t want their children to be conscientious creators of their own lives—to achieve desired goals?
Children learn to use and apply knowledge as they gain experience in planning, organizing, decision-making, and problem-solving. Together, these skills are the building blocks of resourcefulness. When children can imagine multiple outcomes, set their own objectives, experiment with new approaches, and negotiate challenges, they make important connections between knowledge and goal achievement.
High grades and test scores are not reliable indicators of resourcefulness. In fact, most of us know bright college graduates who struggle to resolve everyday problems. Being resourceful takes more than cognitive skill. It takes the ability to process information emotionally as well as intellectually.
Research shows that resourceful students are not only better at achieving goals, but also respond better under stress. A study published in Educational Psychology showed that academic stress adversely impacted the grades of students who were not resourceful, but had no impact on the grades of highly resourceful students.
As parents, we help children become resourceful when we walk beside them through the everyday practice of being goal-directed rather than setting objectives and problem-solving for them. When we provide home environments that encourage children to plan, strategize, prioritize, set goals, seek resources, and monitor their progress, we teach them to be resourceful.
Six Ways to Help Your Kids Feel Competent and Resourceful
1. Model principles of problem-solving.
When children understand four simple principles of solving problems, they learn to apply them in all aspects of their lives. Teach your child how to: 1) Understand a problem, 2) Devise a plan, 3) Carry out a plan, and 4) Look back to evaluate your efforts. Mathematics educator George Polya developed these simple principles in 1945 and they are still considered the basis of problem-solving today.
2. Let go of perfectionism.
Studies show that perfectionist attitudes can interfere with a child’s ability to achieve goals. Parents help children avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism by focusing on the learning process, not just the result, and by helping kids set realistic goals. Learn about the signs of perfectionism and ways to support a perfectionist child.
3. Involve children in decision-making.
When kids are actively involved in making family decisions, like menu-planning, where to go on vacation, what movies to watch, what service activities to support, how to divide family chores, and the myriad of other choices families make, they learn about decision-making processes, improve skills, and increase self-confidence. They gain experience in debating, negotiating, and communicating thoughts and feelings to others—all aspects of resourcefulness. Families that have regular family meetings help strengthen their abilities to collaborate and accomplish goals.
4. Encourage the use of technology.
There is an abundance of technology available that helps children become more resourceful and productive. For example, mind-mapping can help kids better understand problems and devise plans by visualizing connections, outlining different sides of issues, and determining next steps. Electronic planners, note-taking programs, and timeline software can help children carry out their plans to completion.
5. Promote independence and collaboration.
While independence and collaboration may seem like opposites, both are necessary to become resourceful. Children need to be able to decide what tasks are best accomplished alone and which benefit from teamwork. As your child tackles his next school or home project, ask him what aspects of the project might require collaboration with you or others. Why? When children lead the planning of their own projects, so often managed by parents, they experience firsthand what produces good outcomes and how they learn from their mistakes.
6. Teach the art of positive skepticism.
Being resourceful means developing the ability to look at multiple solutions to a single problem. It also requires a dose of skepticism. When we teach kids to be skeptics—to require additional evidence before accepting someone’s claims as true—we also teach them to be curious and resourceful problem-solvers. Parents can model positive skepticism at home, teaching children to think like Galileo and Steve Jobs.
Akgun, S. & Ciarrochi, J. (2003) Learned Resourcefulness Moderates the Relationship Between Academic Stress and Academic Performance, Educational Psychology, 23:3, 287-294, DOI: 10.1080/0144341032000060129
Moilanen, K. L., & Lynn Manuel, M. (2019). Helicopter Parenting and Adjustment Outcomes in Young Adulthood: A Consideration of the Mediating Roles of Mastery and Self-Regulation. Journal of Child and Family Studies. doi:10.1007/s10826-019-01433-5