Teach­ing self-suf­fi­ciency early

If we res­cue kids too of­ten, we could be deny­ing them growth op­por­tu­ni­ties

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - DANIELLE BRAFF

Af­ter 4-year-old Aria Ric­chetti wakes up each morn­ing, she grabs the out­fit she helped choose the pre­vi­ous night and gets her­self dressed.

Then, she brushes her teeth and hair, feeds the dog, sets the ta­ble, toasts waf­fles for her­self and her lit­tle brother, and be­gins eat­ing her break­fast while her mother gets ready for the day.

Aria is a self-suf­fi­cient anom­aly at a time when kids, teens and even some adults are re­ly­ing on their par­ents to do ev­ery­thing for them.

There’s even a name for it: emerg­ing adult­hood. In­stead of leav­ing the nest, get­ting mar­ried and be­com­ing par­ents them­selves in their early 20s, most peo­ple are post­pon­ing these tran­si­tions un­til at least their late 20s.

A Pew Re­search Cen­ter study found that nearly a quar­ter of 25- to 34-yearolds are liv­ing with their par­ents or grand­par­ents, up from 11 per cent in 1980.

And an­other Pew study shows that about three-quar­ters of adults with at least one grown child said they had fi­nan­cially sup­ported that child within the last year. Half of those said they were their grown child’s pri­mary means of sup­port.

It may seem extreme to be­lieve that sim­ply fail­ing to be self-suf­fi­cient as a child can lead to fi­nan­cial in­sta­bil­ity and the in­abil­ity to leave the nest in your 20s, but ex­perts said there’s a link.

“Help­ing chil­dren to ac­quire the skills to be self-suf­fi­cient also helps them be self-suf­fi­cient adults,” said Gina Lofquist, se­nior direc­tor of teacher ed­u­ca­tion at the Amer­i­can Montes­sori So­ci­ety.

Lofquist said that if par­ents do ev­ery­thing for their chil­dren, then these chil­dren will come to de­pend on their par­ents, which will even­tu­ally lower their self-es­teem.

On the other end of the spec­trum, if you show chil­dren that you trust them to do more, then the chil­dren will es­tab­lish a sense of in­de­pen­dence for them­selves, and they will gain self-suf­fi­ciency skills.

“We ed­u­cate chil­dren in terms of the adult that they will be,” Lofquist said. “It all starts with the fact that we trust chil­dren.”

That’s why at Montes­sori schools, chil­dren are al­lowed to cut with real knives, they toast with real toast­ers, and they can even iron by them­selves. When the 2-year-olds want a snack, they walk over to the snack area and they peel them­selves their own hard­boiled egg or their own cle­men­tine. “It’s ev­ery­day liv­ing skills,” she said. Aria, who has been go­ing to the Montes­sori school since she was 1 ½, em­braces her in­de­pen­dence, said her mother, Roshni, who mainly at­tributes Aria’s self-suf­fi­ciency to two things: the Montes­sori method and to her own lazi­ness.

“If I just lie around, she likes to help, and she likes do­ing things her­self,” Ric­chetti said.

While Ric­chetti was very open to hav­ing Aria be in­de­pen­dent ever since she was a baby, most par­ents are hes­i­tant, though they shouldn’t be, said Madeleine St. Jac­ques, a New Jersey­based cer­ti­fied par­ent and fam­ily coach.

“It’s never too young to start teach­ing self-suf­fi­ciency skills,” St. Jac­ques said.

Dur­ing tummy time or when ba­bies are crawl­ing, walk­ing or learn­ing to walk, par­ents can put ob­jects just out of their reach to help them try to grab them. Even­tu­ally, the baby will reach the ob­jects, and they will gain sat­is­fac­tion from do­ing so.

“We want our kids to be happy, and we want to spare them dis­com­fort,” St. Jac­ques said. “But if we res­cue them too early and too of­ten from the safe, ev­ery­day strug­gles, we’re deny­ing them op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth.”

Younger chil­dren can help with meal prep, laun­dry, pet care, pack­ing their lunch boxes; pre­teens can walk short dis­tances un­su­per­vised and com­plete home­work on their own; teens should be do­ing their own laun­dry and shop­ping for their own cloth­ing, St. Jac­ques said.

Treats, pep talks and a play­ful tone can help if your child is re­sis­tant to start­ing a task, said Carol We­ston, au­thor of nine books, and ad­vice colum­nist at Girls’ Life since 1994.

And start small, she sug­gested. So you can tell your child that you’ll set the timer, so he can clean his room for 10 min­utes be­fore you go shop­ping. Or ask him to quickly set the ta­ble be­fore din­ner or help load the dish­washer be­fore dessert.

With teens, you could be more com­fort­able, pre­sent­ing the task as de­fin­i­tive: Din­ner is in 10 min­utes, so let’s set the ta­ble to­gether.

“No ca­jol­ing or scold­ing; try to be mat­ter-of-fact,” We­ston said. “Present the task as a given.”

While there will be tears, es­pe­cially with the in­fants and younger chil­dren, the re­wards of self-suf­fi­ciency are worth it.

“Part of be­ing a kid is be­ing proud of your ac­com­plish­ments — pick­ing an out­fit, get­ting dressed — each of them are small, at­tain­able goals that al­low them to feel good about your­self ev­ery day,” Ric­chetti says.

These are also small steps to show­ing chil­dren that they can take care of them­selves and man­age their own lives, said Eileen Gallo, psy­chother­a­pist and coau­thor of “Sil­ver Spoon Kids.”

Gallo used to give her teenager a cloth­ing al­lowance and would take him to the mall to help him shop.

“The first time I did it, I helped him un­der­stand the cloth­ing,” she said. “I told him to feel the fab­ric, feel the seams.”

She had a cup of tea while he walked around the mall and fig­ured out what he wanted, and then she joined him to pay for the cloth­ing. The fol­low­ing year, he was able to do it all him­self.

“There are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties to guide them,” Gallo said.

But part of be­ing self-suf­fi­cient is also learn­ing to fail.

One year, Gallo’s son used his money to pur­chase a wool coat. At the time, they were liv­ing in Los An­ge­les, so the wool coat wasn’t nec­es­sary — and he didn’t have any money left for other cloth­ing.

It was a les­son he’d never for­get.

Aria Ric­chetti helps teach her brother Leo how to feed their dog Zola prior to her leav­ing for school.

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