How to make self-reliant kids

Self-reliance is a life skill that in the beginning depends on having cheerleaders on our side encouraging us to keep moving forward, take the next step until we gain the confidence to do so on our own. This fact is true for most of us no matter our age. Especially with children though we must balance our praise and encouragement with some needed help to get them over an obstacle that may be too much at this moment in time.

The tricky part that has been the most difficult for parents since the 1980’s is the part of giving too much. I am becoming more convinced with each family that I work with and talk to that it is the giving of too much that has created the reason that we need to focus so much on self-reliance, resilience, and grit in our young people today.

There are so many examples of young people that did not grow up in a situation that their parents had very much to give except for their unconditional love and building a relationship with their kids. In those kids many times we see grit and determination to do better for themselves and to make things happen. Unfortunately, once they have gained a level of success, they may not realize it was the hardships they went through and the work they did that created the person they are today. So they make the mistake of wanting to give their kids everything they did not have and, the virtue of determination, the life skill of self-reliance is not strengthened in their children.

In other families, I have seen the children handed everything they need and want and later in life, grow up not knowing how to pull themselves up from failure and make something happen. They continue to look for others to do things for them. Now just to be clear this is not a blanket statement about every kid and every family. However, not encouraging our kids to work for their goals is not going to help them be self-reliant.

Building self-reliance is key to building a stable, resilient, gritty adult. Balancing our helpfulness and generosity with our kids with honoring their dignity and strength is what creates healthy successful and happy adults. Doing too much for a child does not allow them to strengthen this life skill or their resilience that they need in the adult world.

What is self-reliance and how can our kids learn it

Self-reliance is the goal of parents for their children so that when they get older and out on their own they can function and accomplish the day to day tasks of life. There are several virtues needed to attain this life skill of self-reliance. Our child will be building their confidence, independence, dependability, patience, flexibility, and trust – self-trust.

When our child is very young, just a baby, they depend on us for everything. We feed them, dress them, and get them from one place to another. Later they learn to crawl and walk, start using eating utensils and dressing while becoming self-reliant. They start making choices about what they will wear, who they want to be friends with and make judgments about what is right and wrong, fair or unfair. While we are excited to see them grow up it can be difficult too. As they take on these new areas of life, they are building their self-reliance.

From the parents perspective helping our children grow their self-reliance requires us also to be confident, patient, flexible and trusting. The number one rule in building self-reliance is not to do for a child what they can do for themselves. What we know as an adult is that every new thing we try may not come quickly at first. With practice though, a few mess ups and coaching we can improve.

When helping our child develop their self-reliance, we will give them the same opportunities without judgment to try new things, practice, mess up while we coach them through the process. Setting our expectations at a developmentally appropriate scale and allowing mistakes and imperfections as learning experiences will build their confidence. Even while the child is learning to make judgment calls, we can coach them through the process of decision making and allow them to deal with the consequences that come up so they learn to make choices that will be the best for them.

Building self-reliance can be a bit messy while in the middle of the process. However, the result of seeing our child making choices that are best for them, taking care of household chores on their own, getting up in the morning by themselves and other things without prompting from us the parents is worth celebrating. Self-reliance is about depending on ourselves and trusting our choices. Parenting is about educating, guiding, correcting in a way, so our children grow up with self-reliance.

4 Stumbling Blocks to Self Reliance

fears are storiesWhile it is great to have others around us to push and encourage us to take on a task or a new skill,  there are 4 stumbling blocks that can makes us feel less confident when those encouraging words are not around.  They are (1) Fear, (2) Laziness, (3) Negative people, (4) Negative self talk.

Fear – The two fears that can sum up all others are fear of failure and fear of not being enough.  It is this fear of failure that attacks many of us, thinking that we would be embarrassed in front of others, or that we may be laughed at, or we may be ‘perfectionist” and are afraid we will not be able to master the task quick enough.  Finally there can be the fear of success also.  With this fear we are concerned about the added responsibility that will come with our success.

How to overcome these fears will be discussed in detail at our upcoming Parent Coaching Series on Optimism.  But ultimately our belief of the results of the task or what has or might happen affects our response.

Laziness – This seems to be such a harsh word, but sometimes we try to find the easy way out or get others to do for us.  We have to be careful too, of asking others to do for us what we could do for ourselves.  This can become a habit – even with children.

Overcome this habit is first to be aware and ask ourselves, could I do this on my own?  If so step up and complete the task.

Negative people – Unknowingly and certainly not on purpose adults many times will tell children that they cannot do something that they are dreaming about.  Imagine if a child had a dream of raising a large sum of money for a charitable cause and the adults around them told them, “that’s nice – but you can’t do that.”  It starts a process of negative thinking in the child.  When others tell us we cannot do something it affects the way we think about ourselves and abilities.

Surround yourself with those who ask more of yourself than you do.

Negative self talk – Sometimes we tell ourselves we cannot do something even before we try.  reducing our own fear of failure is to know that everyone – even well intentioned and good people – make mistakes.  Increased tolerance of our own mistakes, limitations and miscues will help us from putting ourselves down as not able to accomplish tasks.

Learn the A,B, C’s of Optimism  (On March 12 at 5:30 the Parent Coaching Series will discuss this subject)

So what are some new tasks that you might be willing to try?  Is there something that would make a big difference in your life that you have feared starting or you told yourself you could not do?  Are you willing to talk to yourself in a different way and go for it?

Self Reliance & the Challenge For Parents

confident martial arts childSelf reliance and resiliency go hand in hand. Instilling this sense of self reliance in our children requires that we know when to step in and when to step back. We want to build the independence and encourage our children to explore without fear of failing, but at the same time not push them too fast for where they are developmentally. This is quite a balancing act and as a parent or teacher we will get it right sometimes and we will make some mistakes along the way also.

The challenge for the parents is being able to watch our children struggle with a task without stepping in, taking over, and being overly involved, to the point of not allowing them to develop resiliency and self reliance. When they do succeed – on their own – they gain confidence and learn that they can do it by themselves.  If we step in too soon, too often, we risk their ability to learn these beliefs about themselves.  Research is showing that over involved parenting may lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety in children and teens.

I believe sometimes the term “we are building self esteem” is not accurate. Is it us as parents building self esteem, or are we allowing them to grow and thrive?   Their faith in themselves to be able to achieve and do things, even if they fail in the beginning multiple times, comes from parents allowing the failure to take place, encouraging them with our belief in them and their abilities, coaching (but not doing for) them and celebrating the small incremental improvements.   Parents and teachers will want to help students learn to have positive self talk – telling themselves – “I can do it” for the times that others are not around to encourage them to press on.

Our children have a need for autonomy and this need grows as they get older. We can create opportunities for them to believe in themselves and become independent over time, as they grow into confident, resilient, self reliant young adults.

Are we more dependent than ever before?

confusedWith more technology available to all of us than ever before, it may seem that we have become more self reliant. I can remember a time even as an adult that I could not type, but with the advent of the personal computer, I now do things for myself, that in the past I would have passed on to others to do.

This raises the question though if with all of this new ‘self reliance’, are we really there or have we become more dependent in other ways – phones with us all the time, concern about who or how many ‘likes’ we have or comments on our posts. I have found myself concerned, that as I write many blog posts – are they being read, am I reaching the audience?

While we benefit from all of the advances in technology – we may want to ask ourselves – How is my personal growth? Personal growth is a measuring tool for self reliance. Am I growing in a way that I trust my own judgements on matters, or am I too concerned about what others are doing or what they will think or approve of. Am I learning to trust in my own powers and abilities to try something new? When a course of action is not getting the results we are looking for – do we trust that we can try a new way of approaching the situation?

Even though asking for help is a great idea –  and then using those new skills, thoughts and decision making abilities to get the job done.

Tips For Teaching Self Reliance to Children

i can do itSeveral years ago when we first introduced the concept of self-reliance to our students, I realized I had some work to do in this area. It is funny how you know what others need – but when you look deeply at yourself, you may see that you personally have the same needs. I realized that I was more than willing to ask others to do things for me that I was perfectly capable of completing – ( I called it delegating) – but really it was giving away what I was responsible for myself.

To build self reliance in our children, we have to as parents, stop doing things for them that they are able to do themselves. We can help build this character trait in our child in both school and in life with a few simple tips.

  1. Provide responsibilities – All children need chores or a way to contribute to the family, for them to learn responsibility and to learn that they can do things on their on. Beyond household chores they are responsible for their school work too. In any event, it is the completion of responsibilities on their own that creates self reliance.
  2. Organization – it is key that they have a schedule, a workplace, possibly a checklist, before starting work on a project. Help them to keep all of this in one place, and they can begin their work independently from start to end. This step can be done with household chores or school work.
  3. Chunking their work – Breaking up any goal into smaller tasks and checking them off, helps them to see their progress that they are making on a larger project. You will have to show them how to think that way, make their list and concentrate on the smaller individual areas one at a time.
  4. Use a timer – Set the timer and have them work independently for a designated amount of time – without asking questions, getting up or talking – this is their time to work on the project. When the timer goes off they can choose to continue or get up and move around or ask questions. Check to see the progress they have made and see if anything can be checked off the task list.

Finally, making mistakes is the OK. Do not hurry in to fix the bed that is not perfectly made, or the homework that is not as good as you would have done (it is not your homework). Practice leads to learning and mastery. Praise the effort, the initiative and find one good thing to praise.

Based on my own experience, I am thinking that there are probably some of us adults that could put these tips into action for ourselves.  I did!