Dear Kid Whisperer,
I have a three year old boy and a six year old girl. I have always prided myself at being good at multi-tasking and being able to help both of my kids with their daily tasks without getting frazzled. The problem is that I have noticed that my children have begun to need me to do things that I see other children of their respective ages being able to do. I don’t want this to continue. Also, I am tired and I am starting to get overwhelmed. What do I do?
You seem to be the rare person who can always get your kids out the door, call the drugstore, get their clothes on them, remember where you put your keys, pack their lunches and get them to daycare on time.
Your children have the misfortune of having an extremely smart, capable person as a parent.
Let me explain. The more you do for your kids, the less they will be able to do for themselves. Kids get good at things the same way anyone gets good at anything: through practice and struggle. Remember when kids were allowed to struggle?
Your kids aren’t good at being people because they’re not getting any practice at it.
Kid Whisperer Essential Understanding: Kids should be given help only when that kid is incapable of doing a task, or when failure to help is likely to cause serious injury to the child.
Translation: If a kid is in the middle of a busy street, you tackle the kid and get them out of the street. If a baby needs her diaper changed, you change the diaper. If a healthy 3 year old can’t pull up his pants even though he pulled them up yesterday, he is given the opportunity to whine and cry until he pulls up his pants.
My daughter, on the other hand, is lucky enough to have a moron for a father. I find it hard enough to get myself out the door in the morning, let alone do anything for my daughter outside of what I absolutely have to do. Not only that, I’m not even smart enough to tell her what she should do. Again, this is fortunate because telling a kid what to do is the wrong move 99 percent of the time. Instead, I use the same seven words every time I want my kid (or my students) to do anything. I don’t have the time, energy or brain power to do anything more, and anything more would be hurtful, so I don’t do it.
Here’s the Love and Logic® response that will allow your child’s autonomy to grow at an optimal rate and will allow your stress level to be at an absolute minimum. In addition, I have added a nice little consequence that will super-charge their willingness to take care of themselves in the future. This is how I would handle your situation. We join our hero (me) as he sees your two kids staring off into space instead of putting their shoes on in preparation to go to the park.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. What should you do now?
Kid No. 1: Put on our shoes?
Kid Whisperer: Sounds good. My car will leave for the park as soon as it has two kids in it with shoes on their feet. This offer expires in three minutes. I love you!
Kid Whisperer then walks away and prays that Kid No. 1 and Kid No. 2 get in the car in three minutes and two seconds, so that these kids can quickly learn how strict, loving and calm he is. We rejoin our hero (again, me; I am always the hero) as he is washing the dishes from the dinner Kid No. 1 and Kid No. 2 missed while staring at the wall. Kid No. 1 and Kid No. 2 are in the car, in the garage, right next to the kitchen.
Kid No. 2: We’re ready!!!!
Kid Whisperer: (not looking up from the dishes) Oh, man. This is sad. When did the offer expire?
Kid No. 1: In three minutes?
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. Yeah. It’s been three minutes and two seconds. Ack. You can have another shot at it some other time.
Kid Whisperer then prays that they have a temper tantrum so that he knows that their learned helplessness is being unlearned.
Kim, feel free to experiment with the magic words “Oh, man. What should you do now?” Instead of telling your kids what to do!