Tag Archives: independence

Parenting children

Parenting Solutions: How to Teach Your Child to Problem Solve

How to Teach Your Child to Problem-Solve

There is a lot of talk about teaching children to solve problems on their own. Whole curriculums have been erected by educators determined to train children to “independent thinking” with a host of group games, written exercises, and mind games.

If you walk into any bookstore or browse online you’ll be inundated by workbooks, computer games, and five-minute brain teasers that practically guarantee your child will be at least as competent as Wittengenstein, if not more.

I’m not against any of this, mind you. I’ll be fair, and allow any good man to go ahead and make his buck; after all, this is a capitalist society, is it not? But one thing all of the slick covers and eager beaver salesmen forget to tell you is that the trophy of problem solving is intimately connected with independence.

I don’t want you to confuse independence with the kind of cocky speech so common to child stars and sitcoms, the kind where the child has an answer (usually not a nice one) for everything the parent says.

When I was a kid my parents called that backtalk, and any kid who did that could expect to hear, “Did I ask your opinion?” followed by a swat on the bottom. (let’s not get started on the spank/no spanking debate- one swat on the behind didn’t kill me or any of my siblings-or their friends for that matter-but to each his own).

Independence also doesn’t refer to this generation’s tendency to let children decide what’s best for them, even though their parents may be uncomfortable or downright against those choices.

If you think letting your teenager hang around the mall until late at night, or hang out with friends for long periods of time at your house unsupervised is independence, then this article can’t help you. You’ll have to look elsewhere for the panacea to your problems.

If, however, you can understand that true independence means making some difficult choices that may not be so popular, then you are already well on your way to helping your child survive on their own.

If you also understand that true independence can only occur when you have given your child the structure, the values, the conscience to do what is right so they will be able to exercise their independence in a way that will be helpful to others, then you are most certainly ahead of the crowd.

I have one more surprise for you: The real definition of independence is more than being able to solve problems on your own. The fact is that not all problems can be solved on your own; heck, a good number of problems either can’t be solved or will never be solved in one person’s lifetime.

The best working definition of independence must include the ability to seek out others to help you solve a problem, if necessary, as well as having the coping skills to deal with a problem that has no best solution.

Let’s take for example, the problem of a class bully. Little Timmy, smart as a whip but small for his age, finds himself at the receiving end of Midge and friends, a group of older boys who swagger around the school grounds in search of fresh meat. Until now Timmy has managed to escape their notice; perhaps Team Midge was busy with other prey, or perhaps he simply fell under the radar.

At any rate, now Timmy is the light of their life, and finds himself in a bit of a sticky situation (to put it mildly) about two or three times a day. What should Timmy do? The problem of bullies is one that has existed since Cain and Abel, and Timmy is not about to wave a magic wand and solve all of Midge’s deep-seated feelings of inferiority.

Timmy has several choices, none of which are all that great. He can turn to the powers that be and beg for 24/7 police protection. That might work, at least a little while, but then he risks the wrath of Midge  and company, and will possibly be looked upon as a snitch by his friends. He could try the ol’ lunch money trick, but Timmy is not rich, and he has hopes of some day eating more than twice a day.

The truth is that this situation really has no good answer. Any solution that Timmy hits upon is likely to work for only a little while.

The real question then becomes: who can Timmy approach to help him handle this situation? Can he approach Midge’s sworn enemy? Can he look towards an older, stronger neighbor to help? Can he get together a group of other kids Midge has picked on in the past, and maybe wage a secret war?

And how will he handle the effects of being picked on? The lost school books, missed lunches, not to mention concerned parents, will have an influence as well. Timmy must know how to juggle all of the various balls in the air, or face the unpleasant consequences.

All in all, it’s a situation with no easy answers. Timmy’s parents might want to rush in and solve the problem for him, but in reality it’s a problem that is all his own. It is Timmy who must walk the plank each and every day, never knowing how hungry the sharks are that day.

It is Timmy who will have to muster up the courage to try and solve the problem. Timmy’s parents can cheer him on, they can kiss the boo-boos and serve him ice-cream, but ultimately it is Timmy who must face the music. And the sooner they both realize that, the better.


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Parenting children

Parenting Solutions: Life Skills for Special Needs Teenagers

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Parenting solutions for special needs children are not always easy to come by. Raising a child with Asperger’s, sensory integration disorder, ADD, or another disorder often resembles a topographical map: a lot of hills and valleys, a few grassy plains, and a riot of beautiful colors spread haphazardly throughout. But just when you think you’ve found your way through the therapy maze and begun to understand your child, they up and turn into a teenager!

How do you explain to a teenager with Asperger’s that his inability to see things from the other’s point of view is turning off his friends? Or how do you reason with your teenage SID daughter who refuses to bathe frequently because she hates the feel of a shower and loathes getting undressed for a bath? And when your 14 year old ADD ‘er crashes the party with his special brand of impulsivity, you may feel more embarrassed than he does.

The first thing to do is remain calm. Even though it may seem as though your teenager’s behavior is unbearable or intolerable (and what parent of a teenager doesn’t feel like that at some point in their teenager’s life!) generally it isn’t. It may be very difficult, it may even be downright unpleasant, but it’s unlikely to be fatal, or you probably would have been flat on your back, feet up in the air a long time ago.

Maintaining perspective will help you view the situation as an opportunity to teach your child the right way to behave. By looking at these challenging behaviors as opportunities to help your child achieve further independence, you will be less likely to instigate a battle or begin an ineffective campaign doomed to failure.

Some other important things to consider:

Respect your teenager’s desire to be independent. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the child that we advocated, argued, struggled, and cried for is no longer willing to take the back seat. This is a child who despite his weaknesses, still insists on sitting in the driver’s chair. It’s crucial to remember that even if your child has disabilities, he still desires and needs to struggle for independence as much- maybe even more so- than a typically developing teenager.

  1. Plan for small successes. True growth does not happen in a day, a week, or even a month. Lasting change takes time to implement, time to foster, and more time until the change is no longer a “change” but the way things are. Plan goals that are small, yet successive, and make sure your child is at least 80% successful while you are working with them. It’s hard for anyone to fail, but teenagers are especially sensitive to failure. They are often unable to see the big picture, and will feel that if they have failed once then they are doomed to failure forevermore.
  2. Focus on your child’s strengths as well, not just on their weaknesses. It’s easy to see so many things to fix that your forget this is not about fixing what is broken, but about building what has yet to be completed. Your child is more than the sum of her differences- it is exactly these differences that make her who she is. Try and find a way to use her differences in a positive way. The same child who would rather be alone because she is uncomfortable with people could make a great web designer or computer programmer. Maybe your 16 year old likes to cook, and sometimes helps you out by cooking dinner occasionally. Can you find a chef or a caterer who would be willing to teach her once a week? Could you nurture a future business by allowing her to help cook for family events and get-togethers?
  3. Develop goals in a variety of areas. Your child may need a lot of guidance with social skills, but you would be wise to include a variety of areas for him to work on. A well-rounded goal plan is more interesting, more effective, and easier to plan for. You can even try and integrate several goals in one activity, though this is not always necessary or possible. Some possible areas to work on:
  • self-care skills (grooming and hygiene, appropriate dress for the weather or occasion)
  • medication management (your teenager needs to be aware and responsible of what medications she takes, their side-effects, and how they help her)
  • social skills (this also includes understanding society’s rules and your rules about dealing with the opposite sex)
  • symptom management (this includes understanding his disability, as well as being able to advocate for himself)
  • educational and career training (what educational or career goals does your child have? All of us desire to be contributing members of society, and your teenager is probably no different. Help her identify what she likes and/or is good at doing. Then brainstorm with a career counselor or look online for possible careers or occupations.

5. Allow for immaturity too. Like most teenagers, your teenager might switch between a desire to do everything - or nothing- on his own. Even though it’s frustrating, it is normal. Build in some special one-on-one times where he is allowed to choose the activity and just be himself. Include reasonable rewards which show you recognize how hard he is working. And even though they may act like they don’t need it, don’t forget to show him how much you still love him. Write notes, pack a favorite lunch, do him a favor and drive him when he normally walks. He may not gush with effusive thanks, but he will definitely appreciate it- and probably thank you for it when you least expect it.

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Parenting children

Parenting Solutions: 5 Tips to Helping Your Child Learn to Problem Solve


There are several tools you can use to help your children learn how to be problem solve:

1.  Let your child handle the little problems on their own. When your child looks in the fridge and complains their brother ate the last piece of pizza, don’t automatically suggest a solution for them. Answer, instead, “Wow, that’s a real bummer! And you especially saved it until after you finish studying!” Sympathize, look and act concerned, but don’t step in with a ready answer.

Your kids will probably get annoyed with this initially, since they’re used to having all of their problems solved for them:

 “Where are my shoes?”

 “I don’t know, I haven’t seen them.”

“But I need them!”

“Maybe you can wear your sandals.”

“No I can’t wear my sandals! Nobody wears that kind anymore!”

As you probably remember, many times kids aren’t happy with the solution we give them anyway. By not giving them an easy answer, you force them not only to work through the problem on their own, but also to take responsibility for the choices they make.

2. Lead them to the water, but don’t make them drink. If you find your child absolutely seems stuck, ask leading questions to help them along. In the above example, you could respond, “What do you think you will do? Will you eat later or do you think you might eat something else?”

Asking a question is very different than making the same suggestion of, “You could eat later or you could eat something else.” In the latter, the child will often reject it, simply because they are in a bad mood, and a statement is easier to reject. A question on the other hand, begs to be answered, if not right away, then after they have finished ranting and raving about evil siblings that should be ejected into outer space.

If they continue to rave and insist you find a solution for them, you can redirect their attention by asking, “What did you decide to do?” This puts the ball right back in their court.

3. Encourage them to evaluate their choices. The second most important thing to making your own choices is to periodically evaluate how those choices are working out. If you know your child was faced with making a choice -even an easy one like the example above- ask them a few hours later what their choice was, and how it went. This teaches them that choices are not something carved in stone. They are meant to be examined, evaluated, rolled about on the palate like a fine wine.

You can help your child learn to evaluate the effectiveness of their choices by asking questions like: What did you decide to do in the end about that boy who was bothering you?” Is it working out? Is it helpful? Is there anything you’d rather do differently?” Be careful not to be judgmental about a choice they’ve made.

Remember, it’s their choice, and if it isn’t a good one, they’ll find out soon enough. Your child will be better able to accept the consequences of a poor choice, and consider making a new one, if he views it as his own. Your job here is to reflect his answers, and show that you understand, sympathize, and support him.  

Don’t give advice unless your child truly asks for it. Try and respond, “If it were me I would..” Be as brief as possible, and keep a careful eye on how your child receives the information. Deep down most children view their parents as all powerful. Sometimes even if you give them a great solution they might feel that they are not powerful/smart/strong enough to implement it. In our family I often send the child off to a sibling, suggesting maybe they have an idea of what to do.

4) Give your child more responsibility. Encourage your child’s independence by giving him responsibility consistent with his age and level of maturity. Many parents underestimate exactly how much responsibility their child is capable of handling. For example, in the country that I live it is very common for children as young as four to go to the store on their own and buy bread, milk, or some other basic commodity.

Even though there is no danger of kidnapping, child predators, etc, I was still very reluctant to let my children attempt such a feat. I grew out of it soon enough when I realized how self-sufficient those children were. They knew the value of money, they knew how much change to expect, and they were rightfully proud in helping out their families.

I did a complete turnaround, and by 12 my daughter was able to do a complete weekly shopping for the entire household. She learned how to comparison shop, look for good bargains, and would often on her own add items that were needed but that I had forgotten to put on the grocery list.

You may not feel comfortable going that far, but there are plenty of other small “jobs” you can give your children. A 3 year old can help separate out her clean clothing, and a four year old would be thrilled to wash out his plate and fork. A 6 or 7 year old can learn how to sew on a button, and as long as he can read, is more than capable of doing his own laundry.

Most parents make the big mistake of waiting until their children are older before the give them responsibility. Those same kids who at 3 and 4 were begging their parents to help will take a lot of convincing at 11 when asked to help pitch in. Why should they want to help? They’ve had it easy until now.

Try making a family meeting. Write down all the jobs that are done in your house, including things like working and changing the baby. Explain to them that you need their help; it’s impossible to continue as things are. Give examples to back up your case. Then show them how everyone will benefit by helping out. Then let them choose which jobs they will take over. There will be some jobs that they will not be able to do-like nursing the baby-but that’s okay. Having them down on the list will help them see that it too counts as a job, since it needs to get done.

5) Start out small, and add on as you go. With both younger and older children, your best bet for success is to start out small. Don’t expect your child to solve all of his problems on his own, or clean his whole room by himself, if he has never done it before. Not only will he lack the technical know-how to get the job done, but he will feel overwhelmed by just the thought of having to do all that work.

Giving children responsibility is a lot like teaching them to get dressed when they are small. You never start teaching them by giving them all of their clothing and walking away. Instead, you let them finish zipping up a jacket, or pull up their pants. Next time you might let them help with a button or two, or pull up their underwear on their own. And then before you know it, they’re getting dressed completely on their own.

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Are You a Slave to Your Children?

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I just had a very interesting conversation with a very good friend of mine. She is a single mother who homeschools her 3 children (the oldest is 15 and already in her first year of college), runs several businesses, and still manages to go on exotic vacations and get the housework done- all on a budget that most of us would consider frugal, to put it mildly.

So I asked her, "How do you do it? How in the world did you manage to juggle all of that work and still get everything done?" Having had a child with a learning disability home for several months, I know I found it difficult to help him with his daily lessons, deal with my private clients, do housework, take care of my other 6 children, and maintain this site.

Our conversation was so interesting that in the near future I plan on interviewing her so you can hear her in person-her advice is practical, to the point, and so true. In the meantime, I"ll share with you a statement that really hit the bulls' eye: " I taught my kids to be independent, because that's my job- everyone's job- as a mother. And besides, why should I be a slave to my kids?"

Her point was that most parents do too much for their children: instead of teaching them how to do it themselves, they take away the chance to teach the child to be independent and responsible (and make it easier on mom) by doing it for them.

Now I don't know about you, but I am definitely guilty as charged! And my kids are pretty independent (or so I thought). The older ones have been doing laundry since they were about 10, they often cook lunch or dinner, shop, pay bills for me, and a lot more.

But still, when it came down to it, if there was a pair of someone's shoes on the floor, and I asked them to pick it up, some of them would answer, "But it's not mine! I didn't put it there!" Of course I gave them the answer that " it doesn't matter who put it there, it just needs to be put away," but I must admit I was bothered by the fact that this was their response.

After we talked about it, I realized that this all started when they were 2, and tried to help me fold the laundry. Sometimes I would let them, and sometimes I would do a slick redirect: "why don't you go play with your blocks honey?"

Dumb and dumber. If you read Maria Montessori, you'll see one of the fundamental principles she explains is that a child's work is to master the world around them. What do children spend their time all day doing? Trying to be like Mommy and Daddy. Anyone who has been around children longer than an hour will tell you that even 12 month will try to put away the groceries -especially if you've got plenty of breakables (LOL).

And an 18 month old will fight you to the death just so they can do it "alone," even if they don't quite possess the skills to get the job done.

So when you complain that your 11 year old won't help around the house-heck, won't even clean up after himself, well you hit the party just a little too late. That is a child who at 18 months should have carried his folded clothing to his drawer and put it away. That's the 3 year old who should have been allowed to make his own sandwich (with a child-friendly knife, of course).

That's the 5 year old who could have helped you make grilled cheese sandwiches-first preparing the sandwiches, and then learning how to tell you when the sandwiches are ready to be turned over.

That's the seven year old who should have washed, folded, and put away his own laundry.

I think you get the point. As my friend put it: every other animal in the world (insects too) has to work to survive. Why should my child be any different?

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