Raising Problem Solvers

BlogHer Original Post

Someday, when I am long gone, and my children are sitting around reminiscing about me, there are (I hope!) many good things they'll remember.  But I wonder if, toward the top of the list, they will laugh and recite the sentence they have heard me say so many times that I've wondered if we should just paint it on the wall:  Be a problem solver.

I say it all day.  It is one of many hopes for my children, that they will see a problem and apply common sense and creativity.  I hope they'll work to fix things instead of sitting and being mastered by a challenge in front of them.  When they come to me with a problem that they can, I know, fix themselves, my response is the same:  Be a problem solver.  What can you do about this?  How can you make this better?  Think it through.  Sometimes they need some urging, and I provide a few prompts.  Sometimes the problem is big enough that it really is beyond them, and when that's the case, I take the lead.  But I never want to let my own natural tendency to "fix things" cheat them out of opportunities to solve problems themselves (and the personal satisfaction that comes with that).

That's not always an easy thing for a mother.  I once heard a parenting author say that the best parents are the ones who work themselves out of a job; in other words, they raise children who can take care of themselves.  It's a thought echoed in this excellent post by Robin McClure, entitled "The Unnecessary Parent".  In it she lists several important principles of raising responsible kids, urging parents to give their kids responsibility even at a young age:

Parents sometimes "enable" their kids to remain dependent or incapable of performing certain life skills long after they should be able to do things for themselves. Of course, parents aren't trying to be mean; quite the opposite. But the more that parents do for their children, usually resulting from acts of love, the more they are reliant on others. The preferred course of action is to start instilling responsibility as soon as a child can be old enough to understand the concept.

Kelly Curtis of Pass the Torch (and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things) addresses the same issue in a guest post for 5 Minutes For Mom.  In it, she gets specific about the ways she's raising her kids' responsibility levels on their birthdays, to match their growing abilities.  She talks about how their allowances stay in line with the work they're expected to do:

Although it’s more of an art than a science, we are able to work it out, and our daughter (who is two years older) claims two more jobs than our son, earning $2 more than him weekly as well. Each year when their chores increase, their allowances follow suit.

Carol of SheLives came up with a very creative way to encourage independent thinking with her kids.  When her teens continued to clean their rooms in ways that were below reasonable standards, she gave them the responsibility of doing their work, and then inspecting their sibling's work:

So, back to reality. . . If an area did not meet my standards, the inspector AND the inhabitant of said area would both be denied privs for the rest of that day. 

Empowering her kids with this additionally responsibility has worked beautifully for their family.

It is, as Kelly said, "more of an art than a science".  No doubt we'll all over-step (or under-step) in our quest to train responsible kids.  But I aim to err on the side of urging my kids to think and solve and try.  When I work myself right out of a job, I'll know I did that job well. 

Shannon Lowe is a BlogHer contributing editor (Mommy/Family). She also blogs at Rocks In My Dryer and The Parenting Post.

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