Thursday, August 5, 2010

Encouraging Autonomy

A friend of mine's son is about to start university and she's completely distraught. She's devoted her entire life to her kids -- they are everything to her. I can feel her sense of loss already. She is not handling it well. On top of that she's only just realizing that her children have no life skills. They don't know how to cook, do laundry, find their way, pick up the phone to inquire about something. She's always done everything for them so that they could focus on their activities. I had to really bite my tongue and just listen to her pain. I wanted so much to judge her for being selfish and not fulfilling her duty as a parent to prepare her kids for life. But just like my own mother, I know her heart was in the right place. Who can fault a parent for loving their kids after all?

So how does one go about encouraging autonomy? Personally, I try to take my cue from my kids. When they are eager and able, it goes more smoothly than me telling them what to do (surprise, surprise). In the awesome book How To Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, the authors provide some very good advice on how to get kids to learn to do things for themselves.

1. Let children make choices (are you in the mood for your red shirt or blue shirt?)
2. Show respect for a child's struggle (tying shoe laces takes a lot of fancy fingerwork)
3. Don't ask too many questions (say: "Glad to see you; welcome home" instead of: "Did you have fun today? What did you learn? Who did you play with, etc.")
4. Don't rush to answer questions (try: "That's an interesting question. What do you think?")
5. Encourage children to use sources outside the home (maybe Grandpa would have a suggestion)
6. Don't take away hope (try: so you're considering a career in architecture! not:with your grades?)

I let the kids do little things here and there. I should really let them do more. The control freak in me needs to let things go and have more patience. Yes, it will take longer and be messier, but in the end we'll all be better for it.

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