Are we enabling or empowering our kids?
So, this holiday I got to spend every waking minute with my little guy. What a treat! It was exhausting, overwhelming and life-giving at the same time. Every day he’s been learning something new and boy does he make a point of it to practice that new learnt skill over and over again, from climbing stairs, to talking, to riding his little black scooter, to climbing out of the bath by himself (Lord help me!), paging through an endless number of books, new dance moves, the list goes on and on and on. I’ve been continuously astounded by his ability to retain information like a little sponge.
Now for those of you that don’t know, Troy is just over one year old. It’s prime learning age and although I’ve known this for the longest time, in theory from my studies, this has been my first time experiencing it hands on. Which has got me thinking about our role as parents, teachers, therapists etc. in terms of enabling, empowering and equipping our children to be as independent as possible for each unique stage of their development.
For some of us (including myself – yes, I’m preaching to the choir here…), we might want to hold onto our seats from this point forward, as this is where the ride might become a little bumpy. You see, I’ve found myself pondering the question; Could we be responsible for our current and future generation’s delayed responsibility and lack of independence. Which, might I add, has actually been found in research. There’s a fine line between enablement and empowerment and although I truly believe that there is a place for both when raising our kids, could we be guilty of enabling or kids to the point of unwanted dependency rather than actually equipping and empowering them to become as independent as possible?
Very often when I ask parent’s what responsibilities and roles their children have within their household whether they are able bodied or not; it becomes clear that they just don’t have any. Although the exact reason for this is unclear, it does carry detrimental consequences. Have you ever heard the saying; give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This same principle applies to our children today. If we’re not going to teach and involve our kids when it comes to cooking, cleaning, laundry, carrying groceries etc. when do we expect them to actually learn and master those skills. I get it… Life is busy and sometimes if you want something done right , you just do it yourself, right? Which is often one of my shortfalls… Ouch...
However, I’m not saying you need to let your 6 year old cook you dinner from now on or start spending your Saturdays watching your kids spring clean the house like little minions. No, most times it starts with small changes that have the biggest impact. Here are just a few examples that we’ve been implementing in our household, bearing in mind that Troy is only one year old:
1. When we unpack the car or carry out the groceries, we give Troy something to carry as well (e.g. a bag of rice).
2. When I sweep the floor, I give Troy a play-play broom or even a dust and pan to ‘help’ me clean the floor. Most times it ends up in disaster but it’s worth modelling the skill to him.
3. After playing with Troy’s toys, we sing the clean-up song and encourage him to help us put the toys in a box, even if it’s just one.
4. Once we’ve finished reading a book to him, we show him where to put it back in the cupboard.
5. We’ll give him short one step instructions for e.g. throw your shirt in the basket or put your nappy in the bin, pick up the pillow etc.
6. We have 3 boisterous dogs whom we have to play fetch with daily, otherwise they become naughty, so we include Troy in that. He also now throws the ball to them and even shows them to sit.
7. We try to encourage him to walk up and down the steps or even just walk as far as possible by holding our hands, rather than picking him up.
These are just a few examples and obviously the tasks will become more or less complex depending on a child’s age. If I could give some direction, we need to be weary of underestimating the ability of our children to grasp responsibility. If anything, certain responsibilities should be presented to them as an honour or accomplishment rather than a chore. We should be careful of labelling tasks which facilitate independence as ‘chores’ but rather use language like ‘your responsibility’ to try and get a mind shift away from ‘work’ or ‘punishment’. The goal is to let them know that they have a greater level of trust to complete certain tasks.
By no means do we have it all figured out. Honestly, we’re still figuring it out as we go along, as I suppose most parents and professionals do. It also takes time, patience and work on our end, but we’re optimistic that we’ll reap the fruits of our labor as he gets older, more responsible and more independent with time.
The next post will be by a speech therapy student. So if you want to learn more about speech therapy stay tuned.
See you soon. Chans x