Mentoring Our Children

by Parenting Power



Building Responsibility

One of the toughest things about parenting is watching our kids go through hardships. We cringe through teething pain when they are babies, then come the scraped knees and feelings of being left out when “everyone got invited to the party but me”.

What we really want to do is to take the pain away. For a while, a parent’s kiss is a magical quantity, but magic doesn’t last forever.
When the kiss stops working, and the Band-Aids don’t carry as much allure as they once did, our next instinct is to take on our child’s problems.

We try to solve them by giving orders or asking a multitude of questions:

“Don’t be rude to your friends!”
 “Why did you hit Grant? How would you feel if he had hit you?”
“Why didn’t Susan invite you to her party? Were you mean to her?”

In his book, Too Safe for Their Own Good, resilience expert, Michael Ungar refers to children being “bubble-wrapped - kids who are being denied opportunities to experience risk and responsibility” and the resulting amounts of “depression, anxiety and an incapacity to take on responsibility” that arise.

He also notes an increase of “very dangerous, risk-taking behaviours that [these kids] come up with on their own to cope with what they were telling me were very restrictive or overprotective environments at home.”

Problem solving for our children can seem like a kind and caring way to parent but it sends a conflicting message. We think we are showing our love for our children, yet our actions say, “Let me solve your problems for you because you aren’t capable of solving them yourself.”
When we have infants in our home, this is reality – they need us to bathe, feed, change and care for them. But, as these infants develop into preschoolers and beyond, we have an opportunity to mentor them – to teach them how to solve their own problems.

When they are young, their problems are often small ones. What better place to begin learning how to look after one’s self?
A mentor can be defined as: a person charged with the instruction and guidance of another. When we seek out a business mentor, we aren’t looking for someone to do our work for us, we are seeking guidance with what we strive to do for ourselves.

Bringing this model into the parenting situation can be helpful and rewarding.

Mentoring strategies for parents:

Provide boundaries for your children and then give them the freedom to act within those limits. When our children make choices for themselves, they begin to see themselves as decision-makers.

When your child asks you a question, find out his opinion before giving an answer. This encourages independent thinking and lets you know more about what he was asking and where he’s headed. It also implies that you are interested in his opinion and that you believe he can generate worthwhile solutions.

Meet your children where they are. Acknowledge that new tasks can be difficult and encourage their effort with small steps:
“Wow, pouring your own milk from that big jug can be hard on the arms. Why don’t I put that into a smaller pitcher and then you can give it another try?”

Create opportunities for self-discovery. When starting a new craft project or heading out on a neighborhood walk, invite your child to explore the materials, or choose the path.

When your child asks a question that you aren’t sure how to answer, help her find an expert to answer the question. Our growing children ask interesting, deep questions that can have far-reaching implications. Teaching them to seek out answers from qualified experts can have many positive results. It teaches that:

Not knowing all of the answers is acceptable in your family (no one needs to be perfect; mistakes are ok)
There are many resources to help us find an answer to our questions

As a parent, you support your child in finding answers to questions that she may not feel comfortable asking you.
When the life-impacting questions come around a little later on and your child is embarrassed to ask you, she will be thankful to have learned how and where to find truthful answers to these questions and will have the confidence to do so.

As a parent, you may never know that she sought help, but you will know that she is capable. 

Being a mentor-parent means taking the time to teach your children and asking questions that will help them to find answers to their own problems.

From Julie Freedman Smith & Gail Bell, Parenting Power