Here’s a wake-up call for American parents: We are doing too much for our kids. This is the origin of “helicopter parenting,” in which we constantly remove obstacles so that our kids don’t have to deal with challenges.
There were many unpopular parenting rules I followed as a young mother. But my No. 1 was: Don’t do anything for your kids that they can do for themselves.
That worked out for my daughters. All three grew up to be highly successful: Susan is the CEO of YouTube, Janet is a doctor, and Anne is the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe. They rose to the top of competitive, male-dominated professions.
Parents need to stop indulging their kids.
The more you trust your children to do things independently, the more empowered they’ll be. To begin with guided practice, the key is the “I do, we do, you do” method. You can try this with all sorts of simple, everyday actions:
Waking up: Have them set their alarm; Getting dressed: Let them pick their outfit; Breakfast, lunch, or dinner: Give them simple tasks like stirring the pancake batter, cleaning their lunchbox, and setting the table; Getting their backpacks ready Have them run through a list of what they need to bring that day.
Making plans: Let them come up with weekend or after-school activities; Checking homework: It’s okay if they don’t get 100% of the answers correct. Let them learn from their mistakes. Chores are essential. Washing dishes was a big one in our house. All my daughters stood on a little stool at the sink and washed the dishes after dinner.
And when we went grocery shopping, I’d ask them to get two pounds of apples. They had to pick out the good ones, which I’d taught them how to do, and measure pounds on the scale. If we went over our grocery budget, they’d help me decide what to put back.
Don’t worry about perfection.
I expected my daughters to make their beds every morning. Ha! A child’s made bed may appear to have her still asleep in it. But I didn’t fight them. As long as they did it, I was happy.
To master something, you have to do it as many times as it takes to get it right. I learned this from being a teacher of writing. In the 1980s and 1990s, one thing that was thought to make a teacher good was a class that was so hard that many students failed.
But the kids who got a D on their first paper couldn’t catch up and stopped trying to get better because they were so far behind. So I let them make as many changes as they wanted to their work. Their grade was based on how well the project turned out. When it was time for tests, my students’ scores on state tests were in the 90th percentile. I wanted to reward learning and hard work, not getting it right on the first try.
Kids know more than you think they do.
To be clear, I’m not saying you should make your kids do things they don’t understand or can’t do. I’m also not saying you should let them play in the street if it’s not safe or walk to the shop if the neighbourhood is dangerous.
The goal is to teach them how to deal with whatever comes their way in life. One of the most important things I taught my daughters is that you can only control how you react to things.
When you let kids make their own choices, they feel more engaged, confident, and in charge of their lives. And once that happens, they can do anything they want.
Esther Wojcicki is an educator, journalist, and bestselling author of “How to Raise Successful People.”