Tag Archives: responsibility

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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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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