Have them invest time and money in others
Vivian Glyck encouraged her son Zak to forgo gifts and divert his bar mitzvah money to a special online fund that was used to build a much-needed library at the Namunia Primary School in Luwero, Uganda. The fundraiser was also opened to the public, and he raised $10,000, but it wasn’t meant as just a charitable exercise. “This was about giving him a connection to the world,” says Manhattan-born Glyck, founder of the Just Like My Child Foundation, which runs many humanitarian programs in Africa. “It was about having an impact on someone’s life.” She recently took him to see the outdoor structure with books that was built by his good deed. It’s called Zak’s Library. Local children gathered around to thank him. In that moment, Glyck said to her son: “How much bigger is this than having $1,000 in your savings account?” It was a good life lesson in sacrificing his needs for a greater outcome.
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Don’t make excuses for your children
It may be hard to watch them flounder and flail through life experiences, but accountability is a building block toward behaving like an adult. “Let children get out of their own messes, unless they are in real danger,” says parenting and relationship expert Thomas Gagliano, author of The Problem Was Me and his newest title, Don’t Put Your Crap in Your Kid’s Diaper: The Clean Up Cost Can Last a Lifetime. “Don’t call into school if their excuse for not going to school is a lie. Let them call in for themselves. Let them face life on life’s terms. No bailouts. Always be there to talk to them or guide and support them, but let them be responsible for their own actions.”
Teach children their choices affect outcomes
Encourage independent choices but hold kids accountable for their decisions. “If you don’t put your toys away, then you choose not to play with your toys later,” Gagliano says. “If you choose to not clean your room, then you choose to not get your allowance. If you choose to come home past the curfew we have agreed upon, then you have chosen to not go out this weekend.”
Consider a more limited life menu
Providing children with too many choices can open them to life’s possibilities but can also be overwhelming. Opening all of life’s doors for them can also present a false sense of reality about what the real world is like when they get there. “Having many choices is a double edged sword,” Dr. Mendez-Baldwin says. “While it creates many opportunities for children, it also requires decision making and problem solving. Children who do not have a healthy sense of self-esteem, children who are insecure, and children who do not have a trusted adult to talk to will have trouble making the right choices.”
Give them age-appropriate freedom
The amount of freedom given to a child must be a good fit between their age and their personality. “A 5-year-old may have freedom to choose a Halloween costume or choose between two snacks to pack in their lunch box but cannot choose their bed time,” Dr. Mendez-Baldwin says. “Keep in mind that children develop at slightly different rates. For example, two 16-year-olds many not be able to handle the same amount of freedom.” She points out that appropriate levels of freedom will allow children to make decisions and start to gain confidence in their decision-making process while still having you around to support and guide them in areas where parental assistance is still required. “If parents control too much of a child’s life, children tend to rebel and often will make poor decisions because they have had no practice in this important life skill.”
Coach them on planning for the future
Having kids think about goals is healthy and helpful. “Let them establish a timeline even if it’s tentative and will change with new experiences,” Dr. Hollman says. “Encourage them to think about where they want to be in two years, five years, 10 years, and beyond.” Just make sure this is an exercise in creating the life they choose, not a stressful mandate for achievements.
Let them see news
We may be tempted to shield their eyes and ears but learning about current events, problems in the world, and differing points of view is an important part of growing up. “We can’t protect them from everything,” says parenting expert and blogger Cherie Corso. She watches the news and reads the newspaper with her young daughter and discusses events, something she recommends for kids older than 6. Just skip the graphic details and images, answer their questions, and explain some of the more complex issues. “When explained, kids can logically think about events and they do have opinions and it’s great to discuss and hear what they think,” Corson says. “News and information is now 24/7. The greatest gift you can give your children is to teach them the tools to process it.”
Don’t let them adult too fast
On the flip side of kids struggling to grow up are those who try to fast track to adulthood. They also need a little help. “Children who are inherently more responsible may try to take on roles of taking care of everything for various people in their lives,” Dr. Blanchard says. “These children may feel the pressure to do “the right” thing all the time. While this is a good character trait, it can sometimes lead to children to being taken advantage of by peers or having trouble saying no.” She says to especially teach tweens and adolescents that sometimes saying no is actually the right thing to do and that being responsible is not about always trying to make everyone happy.
Give kids space to find their way on their own time. “Not every child will be able to accept independence and responsibility in the exact time frame you would like,” Dr. Blanchard says. “Some children will take longer to be able to do chores that other children in their age group can do. Try not to compare your child to their peers or scold them if they really can’t do something. Praise them when they are doing a good job and praise the process of trying as well.”
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