Is a ‘Scandal’ brewing in your house? Whether you’re a fan or not, most everyone has heard of the blockbuster TV series, Scandal, widely anticipated this fall after an agonizing summer hiatus. Its heroine, Olivia Pope, is sharp, beautiful, has a wardrobe to die for, and is highly sought-after professionally, and personally, it seems. Why? Because she can fix ANYthing. People seek her out when things go wrong in their lives. Caught lying, cheating, or stealing? Call Olivia. Want to clean up your image after lying, cheating, or stealing? Call Olivia. She’ll tell you where to go, who to see, what to say, how to say it, and what to wear when you say it, AND “all will be well”. Think you could handle a day in Olivia’s shoes?
In fact, many parents play the role of all-purpose ‘fixer’ in their children’s lives, every day. Instead of allowing their children to learn to wrestle with life’s problems, these parents simply make them disappear. What might this role look like, in practice?
- ‘Best Friend’ – These parents say their children agree with everything they tell them and share everything with them.
- ‘Problem Solver’ – These parents don’t want to break their child’s spirit and think that childhood should be a happy time, all the time. Besides, having children solve their own problems would just take too much time.
- 'Concierge’ – These parents feel personal responsibility for their child’s happiness and will go to great lengths manipulating circumstances to ensure it.
- ‘Piggy Bank’ - Parents hand over money whenever their children see something they simply "must have" and personally pay for all of their children’s activities and entertainment.
- ‘Housekeeper’ – These parents regularly pick up after their children, keep track of their belongings, and perform their household chores.
- ‘Entertainer and Social Secretary’ – They make sure their children are thoroughly entertained at home, leaving little room for reflection or creativity. These parents plan all of their children’s activities with friends (well beyond toddler playdates).
Too extreme to be true? Not really. Parents usually have good intentions, putting on many ‘hats’ when taking over their children’s problems, but there can be unintended long-term effects including stunted development (esp. emotionally and socially), low self-esteem and, believe it or not, diminished regard for parental influence. Besides, juggling the balls in your own life can be exhausting enough without micromanaging every detail in the lives of your increasingly capable children.
Here are some tips for taking a step back and preparing your child to soar:
- Allow your child to develop healthy friendships, providing age-appropriate guidance for social training in the early years and as needed in later years. Your children need to feel comfortable establishing themselves as individuals apart from you, yet assured that you are there for them when they need you. Children also need to experience the impact of their actions on others, establish their own ground rules with friends, and learn how to resolve differences, with practice. Finally, friendships among children wax and wane, but your voice in your child’s ear should be crystal clear, flowing with hard-earned wisdom their peers could not hope to offer.
- Help your child practice the fine art of problem-solving. Show them how to get to the root of problems, weigh options, make decisions, and take action. Don’t leave out the important step of evaluating the results. After that, step back and let them wrestle with some challenges on their own, so they can develop confidence, resilience and ‘muscle memory’ for future obstacles and dilemmas. For help with teaching problem skills, visit: http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php#
- Set the stage for your children to get in touch with themselves and those things that bring them joy. Engage them in enriching activities. Encourage them to try hobbies, teach them new skills, and expose them to new people, ideas, and experiences, all of which lead to self-awareness, a critical element of happiness. Unfortunately, you can’t make your children happy. They decide to be happy, or not.
- Help your children to learn the value of money, early. From the way you instruct them to safeguard the coins and dollars they receive as youngsters to the more advanced notions of a savings account and budgeting, children can learn to respect money for the resource that is. Talk to them about family spending decisions that directly affect them, as developmentally appropriate. Give them an allowance and assign responsibility to them for purchasing some of their own essentials and funding their recreational activities as they get older. To help your children develop money sense, visit these sites: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/financial-literacy/4-money-lessons-for-children-to-master-1.asp and http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/money101/lesson12/index.htm
- To instill a sense of household responsibility in your children, begin teaching them about self-care and managing their own belongings when they are young. Teach them to perform household tasks. As their engagement and interaction with family and others expands, they can then use those early skills to pitch in to make life more enjoyable for everybody. For more ideas on age –appropriate chores, visit these sites: http://www.freeprintablebehaviorcharts.com/chore_list.htm and http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/chores-for-children
- Of course, we enjoy planning fun activities for our children and it is fun to be with them. However, you want to give your children a chance to make their own fun, alone and with their peers. As with happiness, you can’t make them have fun. You can set the stage, but they have to decide to open themselves up and engage in experiences. Sometimes, a little boredom and restlessness are just the motivation children need to get moving to create fun experiences for themselves. Check out these great sources for fun things to do in Northern VA: http://www.virginia.org/coolplacesforkids, http://www.kidfriendlydc.com, and http://www.gokidtrips.com
So...leave the 'fixing' to the professionals on the small screen. In the compelling screenplay that is your life story, give your children room to grow and develop the life skills necessary for navigating life’s peaks and valleys, so that “all will be well”, indeed.