Thursday, March 24, 2016

Center of the Universe

We live in a very different time of parenting than a generation or two ago. Parents tend to have fewer children and tend to have less extended family around them. This tends to create more anxiety in new parents and sometimes they overcompensate by making their child the center of their world.

Of course parents should spend lots of quality time with their children but the job of a parent is to prepare a child to grow up to be an independent adult within society - an adult who can support him/herself and contribute back to society as well in a positive manner.

Children who are treated too much as the “center” often experience difficulties and are often not prepared for future social life. They commonly experience the following issues at school and other places:

  1. They are often not team players – they haven’t learned how to take turns and play their role in the group. They always want to be the center of attention or always the leader in a group – taking over and making decisions for others. They are often unwilling to share leadership with others and give others a chance to perform that role.
  2. Instead of leading, they can also take on a helpless role.  They are not independent within a group – they seem to always need the others to support them most of the time. They will stand on the sidelines and expect others to do their work for them. Ultimately, this kind of child is not pulling his/her own weight in a group.
  3. They are often individuals who always seem to need accommodations. They seem to need accommodations for perceived differences and not any real disability. They just don't expect to play by the rules and seem to always expect exceptional treatment.

When parents are too involved in every aspect of their child’s life, they tend to micromanage too much. This action undermines self-confidence because the child feels that the adult isn’t willing to trust his ability to figure some things out on his own. The child loses opportunities to develop many skills for self-reliance. These vital skills are so important because they promote a “can-do” attitude and build self-confidence.

So what can parents do at home? Parents can work to support their child’s independence within an environment of responsibility. Start by no longer doing things for the child that he/she can already do for himself. If your child can put on his/her clothes by himself, then stop dressing your child. Of course we must  teach the foundational skills for any new activity, but once the child has mastered that skill then step back more frequently and expect a child it to do it  on his or her own. Be friendly with “error.” Don’t make a big deal about mistakes - simply see them as an opportunity to do it again. See it as a learning experience to refine and strengthen skill.

Don't be too quick to rescue.  Allow children to struggle a little bit. If children don't have the chance to manage the small ups and downs of childhood, how will they manage the larger ups and downs of adulthood? Have faith in your child's ability to grow and to be independent. Give your child the chance to learn how to work through frustration, to persevere in spite of frustration. Of course you should step in and help out if the frustration becomes overwhelming. Your child needs to know that he/she can depend on you if a situation becomes too much to handle.

Whatever rules you have at home, be firm in expecting your child to follow them. Allow natural consequences to take care of some issues. Make sure all other consequences are logical and relevant to the issue at hand.  Promote social skills of politeness such as waiting ones turn, speaking politely to others, learning basic table manners, etc. These skills set a strong foundation of social skills that will smooth your child’s interactions with other people.

While of course you play and have fun with your child, be cautious about being your child’s “friend.” You are the parent and thus must do things and make decisions that your child won’t like. Avoid placating your child or giving in to demands. Make it clear that adults get to do things and make certain decisions that children don’t. Many children confuse the role of the adult and child and thus when they get to school they don’t perceive the teacher as an authority figure. Giving your child control over too many choices can lead to this confusion. It’s not up to your child what you will cook for dinner or what time to go to bed. Be cautious in how often you let your child choose what the entire family will do. Teach your child it’s OK to be the center sometimes but that other people also need the chance to be the center of attention as well.

It’s an ongoing challenge to parents to work with all of these issues. It’s helpful to once a month, take some time to review the issues of the past month and set a few short term goals for the next month. It’s also OK to change your mind and change some rules and practices that aren’t serving everyone as family. Keep it simple and don’t try to make too many changes at once.

If you devote your energy into helping your child learn how to be independent and responsible, your child will have the skills and attitudes so vital to learning and growth in a social environment. Your child will be a joy to be around for both children and adults. And he/she will have many skills that will serve him/her throughout life.

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta.