Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to Achieve Planned Obsolesence

My job as a therapist  and a teacher is to make myself obsolete, and so is a parent's.  We know we have succeeded when those who have depended on us for guidance, support, and help no longer need us, because we have provided them with the tools to be able to manage without us.

If you are a habitual reader of  advice columns, you have undoubtedly come across the same letter over and over again: aging parents whose children are still dependent on them long after they should have left the nest, draining them of their money, energy, and privacy. When I read those letters, I always wonder what the parents did to make their children so helpless. I suppose it's some combination of  overprotecting them and neglecting them.

It's a bittersweet reality that parents should start planning, from the moment the child is born, for the day that their child no longer needs them, and doing their best to make sure that it comes.

In order to survive and thrive in the world as a mature, responsible adult, a child has to develop sufficient inner resources to be able to handle himself at school and in the workplace, nurture his relationships, manage his money, and make sound choices about what he chooses to eat and drink and how he spends his leisure time.  This requires the adults to perform a constant balancing act between wanting to protect their child from pain, disappointment, and failure, and allowing the child to learn from his experience.

Some suggestions for helping a child become strong, self sufficient, and resilient:

Minimize the use of the stroller and let the child walk, or carry him on your hip.  Strollers promote passivity and isolation, and don't allow the child to develop trunk stability, dynamic balance, and head righting.  These are the essential physical underpinnings for vision, attention and learning.  Carrying a child on your hip allows you to talk to him while you carry him.  These conversations are crucial for the development of receptive and expressive language and social interaction skills. Put away your cell phone when you are with him and give him your undivided attention.

Never imprison a child in a playpen.  Playpens prevent children from developing and maturing their nervous systems and their intellects through movement and exploration.  Movement is the means by which a child develops his understanding about the world.  If a child is prevented from moving, he is also prevented from developing his ability to learn.

Always assume that your child is operating from a position of strength.  I can't tell you how many times I have started working with a child whom I privately thought was so impaired that I couldn't be of much assistance, only to be proven, yet again, that when it comes to young humans and their remarkable capacity for growth and change, no one can predict a thing.  Children possess resilience, intelligence, and energy in limitless abundance.  They are programmed in their DNA to achieve, and most of them will do whatever it takes, as long as they are not prevented from doing so, to drive their development forward.  When the adults work from this understanding, miracles happen.  Truly, there is nothing more motivating to a child than to be in the presence of a respected adult who sees greatness in him and demands it of him.

{If your child seems poorly motivated, he might benefit from occupational therapy  -- sensory integration therapists are specially trained to tap into a child's inner drive.}

Teach your child how to tolerate frustration.  Try not to step in every time a child gets frustrated or upset when he can't do something or can't manage his emotions.  Intervene only when absolutely necessary.  Be empathic and supportive, but encourage the child to solve his own problems. Being able self regulate and to struggle and stick with difficult tasks until they are mastered are essential life skills.   Without them, your child's chances of succeeding at school and work, and in his relationships, are compromised.  The most successful people are the ones whose temperaments allow them stay cool under pressure and to welcome a challenge.

Let your child fail.  This is hard, but necessary.  We all have to learn to cope with failure and to understand the limits of our abilities.  The late novelist Laurie Colwin wrote that in order to know true rapture, one must first earn it by having also experienced its opposite.  Failure and disappointment is an inevitable part of life. The child should know how to cope with it, and then be able to move on and look forward to, and appreciate, better times.

Don't micromanage the child's social interactions.  If you constantly intervene before he has a chance to work things out for himself, he won't be able to advocate for himself when you're not around.  Let children argue, lose their tempers with each other, call each other names, fight over toys, and vie with each other for dominance.  Stay out of it unless they ask you to mediate, and then help them come to consensus. Otherwise, restrain yourself from interfering unless you see that someone is about to get hurt or there is obvious bullying.

 Don't enable irresponsible behavior.  If your child doesn't do his homework, or forgets his lunch or his schoolbooks, let him sweat it out.  He'll have to deal with the consequences and will know better next time.

 Let him handle his own problems at school. Unless your child is being bullied or has an obviously incompetent teacher, or specifically asks for your help, let him manage his own affairs.  If he was assigned a bad grade, chances are he deserved it.  Instead of harassing his teacher to change his grade, help him come up with strategies to improve his performance.

Don't remove every obstacle from his path.  If you do, he won't be able to manage on his own. The more you can teach a child how to handle adversity, the stronger, more resilient, and better equipped he will be to face life's inevitable stumbling blocks.

Strictly limit recreational screen time.  A couple of hours on the weekend for TV and computer use is plenty.   Children should not be spending much time in front of screens.   Reading, making crafts, helping prepare meals and doing chores, playing games that promote eye hand coordination and improve social interaction skills, or riding a bicycle and playing outside with friends, are infinitely preferable to passively staring at a television or computer.

Have dinner together as a family. Ask the child about his day, and guide him to his own solutions for issues that come up at school and in his social life.

Assign chores and responsibilities so that your child understands about work, running a household, and what it means to have others depend on his contribution.

Teach your child how to manage his money.   It's never too early to learn to save, budget, and to think of others who are less fortunate.

Teach your child how to cook.  What better life skill could a young adult have than to be able to prepare healthy food for himself?  And who doesn't love a good cook?  This is an especially good strategy for picky eaters, who are more likely to eat food that they have helped prepare.

Next week I will outline some strategies and suggestions for academic achievement.


Babajeza said...

Good morning Lauren

I think the problem that many parents have is, that their child is their project. If the child fails they fail. It's not about the child it's about themselves. They don't think of their child as an individual they "only" go along with until she or he is grown up. Saying goodbey starts at the moment of birth.

I'm glad that my boys are doing all right out there in the wild. ;-)

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