We all want our children to be happy and successful in their endeavours. But as parents, we sometimes unwittingly cross the line from empowering our children to enabling them.
When children are small, it is necessary for a lot of parental involvement in day-to-day routines and choices. However, this help often lasts longer than it needs to, as children grow older.
Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of "Positive Discipline," suggests the definition of enabling is "getting between young people and life experiences to minimize the consequences of their choices."
Some of the most common enabling responses to children’s dilemmas include:
Doing too much for them. While it may be easier, faster, and better to do it yourself, if a child is capable of something, let her do it. The day will come when you are not there to pick up the slack, and she needs to have the ability to take responsibility for herself.
Bribing or rewarding. Doing basic household chores and finishing homework should not be treated as a "job" with money or privileges as compensation. Kids should not expect to be paid or rewarded for holding up their responsibilities as a family member and student.
Rescuing. This includes giving constant reminders, finishing a half done task, or repeatedly replacing lost or broken belongings. It is hard to be motivated when there are no consequences.
By empowering instead of enabling, you are showing your child you are confident in his ability to make good decisions. Of course, his choices will not always be good. He needs to know you will always be there for support, but it is not your job as a parent to rush in and make it better.
Dr. Nelsen’s definition of empowering is "turning over control to your kids so they have some power over their own lives."
Here are some empowering ways to help your child:
Show faith. Always tell your child, "I believe in you. I trust you." This message will stay with him and help build confidence and self-control.
Listen without fixing or judging. Give your child your undivided attention as she works out a problem. Listen, offer support and encouragement, and help her find her own solution.
Make agreements, not rules. Sit down as a family to discuss responsibilities and expectations. Find common ground that allows the child some freedom and flexibility within limits that are acceptable to parents. Frequent family meetings will ensure the agreements are being upheld.
As children reach the pre-teen and teenage years, we are faced with the reality that they will one day be on their own in the world. By giving them the tools to make their own decisions, and by letting them know we will always be available for support, they can begin to make the transition into adulthood.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 21, 2012