Monday, October 29, 2012

10 Before 10 - Self Sufficiency

Each of the 10 topics I’ll be writing about over the next 10 weeks is a very big subject that much could be said about. I’ll do my best to summarize why working on mastery of these areas is so important to your child’s success in life, and how parents can help their children learn these life lessons through the way we choose to live.

Self Sufficiency

When that cute little bundle of joy is born our natural parental hormones have primed us for taking total care of our helpless infant. As the child grows we marvel at their determination to seek, to move, to experience, to walk, to talk, and to feed themselves. Some invisible nature seems to propel them toward self-sufficiency – until we get to toilet training.

Toilet training is often perplexing and frustrating for parents because it is a new level of learning for both
parent and child, a new era in your child’s development. At this toddler stage our care giving changes from total care and protection to teaching. Many parents are unprepared for the amount of investment (and years) it takes to teach and train a child to be totally self-sufficient.

Why is self-sufficiency so important? As children learn to take care of themselves they gain in overall confidence, become self-disciplined, begin to understand appropriate behavior, and develop the ability to make sensible decisions. These are all transferable skills that will help them as they go on in life.

The second benefit of self-sufficiency is that we become capable of caring for others. All life is inter-dependent, as we do our part we are naturally contributing to the whole. As your child learns to care for themselves,  their dependency on you decreases which frees you to enjoy other aspects of life. It also frees the child from feeling dependent and helpless, and allows them to learn how they can contribute in a meaningful way.

Interdependence is the natural cycle of giving and receiving that allows all things in the universe to exist and grow, but this cycle relies on the strength of the self-sufficiency of each independent being. The value of independence is that it allows us to be a greater contributor to the relationships we have in life; at home, at work or in the world in general.

In nature the strong survive and the weak die and this creates balance in the life cycle. Human beings however, are equipped with a higher mind that is capable of compassion for the weak. This compassion gives us the strength to care for the weak, which also contributes to the balance of life. No one wants to live in a “dog-eat-dog” world.

Teaching & Training
Whether it’s toilet training, teeth brushing, grooming, household chores, homework, cooking or learning to drive, educating our children to be self-sufficient requires 4 important disciplines from the parents:
a) Rules
b) Routine
c) Role Modeling
d) A Positive Attitude

Parents are a child’s first teacher so first and foremost we have to be a good role model. If the parent does not keep things tidy it is doubtful that the children will either. We often find ourselves caught up in a battle between trying to teach our children good habits and needing to work on our own bad habits at the same time. In a family, the poor habits of parents and the immaturity of children can combine to create a vicious cycle of feeling overwhelmed, which leads to nagging, complaining and endless struggles to deal with daily life.

There is a solution to this dilemma. With a positive attitude, parents can develop better habits as we raise our children by establishing rules and routine in our daily lives. You might establish a guiding principle or motto such as “we care about ourselves as we care about each other”. Here are some rules that would back up that principle:

1) Pick up/clean up after yourself
2) Take care of the things you own
3) Leave a place better than you found it
4) Be kind and helpful to each other

Establishing Routines
Daily routines are what give a family the opportunity to practice these rules. We take care of ourselves and help each other by setting the alarm clock, getting up on time, brushing teeth & showering etc., getting ready for work or school and being on time. Creating a schedule that accommodates everyone’s needs, and following it, develops consistency and harmony in the home.

This might seem like common sense to most people but the spontaneous personality or the night owl might have trouble with routines. Developing consistent bedtime and wake up routines while your child is a toddler will save you and them a lot of headaches later on. It also helps them avoid becoming lazy and unproductive as they gradually realize that each person’s actions affect the others. Positive verbal reinforcement of this concept might be necessary, and in older children who resist routines a consequence would be appropriate.

Teach your elementary age children to make their own breakfast and lunch because this gives them responsibility and reduces their dependence on you (thus reducing excess parental stress). Do it in a natural and fun way that allows them to feel that taking on this responsibility is for their own benefit. Of course you can always help, but the sooner they learn life skills the more they will respect you and appreciate what you do to help them.

Everyone should share in household responsibilities.
It’s simple, if you eat then you should learn to cook and wash dishes. If you use the bathroom then you should learn to clean it, if you wear clothes then you should learn to wash and take care of them, preferably
before college. If we begin teaching our children these skills while we are doing it for them when they are young, they will learn to do these tasks as a natural part of life.

Household responsibilities should not be considered "chores" because they are simply life skills that everyone needs to develop. If you do everything for them until they are a teenager and then suddenly stop, they may feel that you've stopped loving them and become resentful. It may be okay to pay your teenager to mow the lawn, but don't pay them to do their natural part of keeping their home, self and belongings tidy.

You may think that doing most of the cooking and cleaning and home responsibilities yourself is being a good parent, or showing your love, but in reality it is setting yourself up as a servant and slave to children who will be overly reliant on you, and may not even be grateful. Teaching children to be independent and responsible through daily routines & rules, positive attitude, and good role modeling, will cause them to feel more secure and know that they are loved. From this they will value having had such good parents, and it will be more natural for them to be successful in life and raise a happy family of their own.

It can take a good amount of time, persistence, patience and encouragement to develop good life skill habits for self-reliance. Make an age appropriate plan and work at it day by day in a natural way. This may be very different from the way you were raised, so keep in mind that your goal is helping your child to become the best person they can be.

I'd love to hear your responses or experiences on this topic so feel free to comment.

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