7 Ways to Teach Dependability
Infants need their parents. Their parents feed them, bathe them, change their diapers, clothe them, help them get to sleep, calm them, and so on. In spite of all this effort from parents, I’ve never heard an infant tell his mother, “I see you’re busy with dinner, Mom. Don’t worry about my bottle. I’m hungry, but I’ll wait until your done cooking dinner to eat.” No, he just cries for his bottle. He is powerless to care for himself; and self-focused in his desire to get what he needs when he wants it. His problem (whether it be hunger or a soiled diaper) is your problem. If you don’t believe me, sit in the car with a hungry infant for a while.
As family shepherds, we do not want our children to remain completely dependent, self-focused, and demanding for their entire life. We want them to grow and mature…to become independent. We want them to become responsible for their emotions, attitudes, behaviors, and daily choices. As they mature, we hope they will identify their own strengths, what they can accomplish on their own, and what they need help with. We want them to gain the courage and wisdom to reach out to others rather than give up when they face a seemingly insurmountable challenge. We also want them to help others when asked to. Overall, we want our children to become adults who exhibit a maturity that allows for intimate relationships, shared effort, mutual accomplishments, and joyful interactions.
How do parents help their children move from dependent, demanding kids to mature, dependable adults? Here are some suggestions.
· Invest time and effort in your relationship with your child. Relationships are at the heart of parenting. Parents teach, instruct, and discipline effectively from the foundation of a strong relationship with their child.
· Validate your child’s emotions. Accept and affirm your child’s feelings, even if you do not always like them. For instance, if your child yells, “I hate you” in anger, accept his anger. Label the anger while setting a limit on appropriate expression. A parent might calmly say something like, “You are really angry with me. I still love you. It’s OK to be angry with me.” When your child calms down, you might talk repeat that statement and tell him it would be better to simply say, “I’m mad at you”–probably a more accurate statement in the long run. In this manner, you teach your child to express and manage their emotions. You teach them to become responsible for their own emotions.
· Teach your children positive alternative behaviors. The more alternative responses your child knows, the wiser choices he can make. If he only knows to hit and yell when angry, he will hit and yell. However, if you teach him, through your actions and words, that he can also walk away, take a deep breath, calmly assert himself, verbally and respectfully express his anger, or find an adult, he has more tools and options available to make a wiser choice.
· Model self-control. A parent models self-control when he does not let his child provoke him to action or control his actions. When a parent does not give in to a child’s tantrum or demanding behavior, he models independence and self-control. When a parent does not jump into a power struggle with a child, he models strength and self-control. As a parent, model independence, an ability to manage emotions, behaviors, and decision making.
· Model effective ways of dealing with your own weaknesses. Let your child see you turn to other people for assistance. Allow them to see you work with other people to pool strengths and accomplish a greater result. You can even reach out to your child and utilize his strengths to help you accomplish a task. In the process, you model that we all have weaknesses and we can ask for help when we need it.
· Encourage your child to step out of their comfort zone. When your child commits to a course of action, insist that he complete it. When he starts a project but wants to quit when it gets difficult, encourage him to continue and support his efforts. Praise his persistence and effort when he finishes the task. This teaches your child the value of commitment. It also teaches him that some tasks are difficult. Even though we may feel vulnerable and uncomfortable with a difficult task, we don’t give up. We keep working at it. We seek help if necessary. We finish what we started.
· Teach your child to fail successfully. Teach him that failure is not the enemy, but the teacher…not a reason to quit, but an opportunity to learn. Tell him stories about those who failed and learned from that failure only to become successful people…like Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Edison. Tell him stories about your own failures and what you learned from those failures. Walk through moments of failure with him. Empathize with his disappointment and discouragement while encouraging him to find the lesson. Help him separate what he can change about the situation and what he has no control over.
Practice these 7 suggestions and you will find your child growing more mature and independent.