Start Lists, Stop Nagging
Filed Under (parenting tips, self-esteem)

“I don’t want to be a nagging mother.  I want everyone to do their part without me asking repeatedly.”  I moaned. Teen daughter responded matter-of-factly with an irrefutable truth, “It’s just not going to happen, Mom. So accept it.”

She’s right, of course.  A family in which the children operate as self-sufficient, self-motivated, responsible team members without parental involvement is about as realistic as a money tree.  But my passion for nurturing self-esteem motivates me to find new ways to instill self-reliance.  Because a child who can take care of herself feels capable.   And a child who feels capable is more likely to take on new challenges and responsibilities.  Each time she does, she generates self-esteem.

The trick is knowing how much a child can handle.  Expecting too much discourages a child. Expecting too little stunts her personal growth.  How to measure what’s just right?  Follow the child.

  • Signs of overwhelm may be seen in these forms:

    Self-defeating statements like, “I can’t do anything
    Exaggerated reactions:  “This is stupid.  Who cares about this anyway?”
    Backsliding:  reverting to childish behaviors like
    thumb-sucking or clinging to parent in social situations.

As a parent, I’ve been guilty of setting lofty expectations.  When that happens, my children are quick to remind me that children are not miniature adults.  On one particularly harried morning, I barked out a succession of orders to my eager-to-please seven year old.  She
tried her best to keep up but eventually succumbed to tears of stress, blurting out between sobs, “Mom, I’m just a kid.”

It was my husband who suggested our current method of household responsibility.  Envying my efficiency as I methodically crossed items off my to-do list, he asked if I would make him a list.  Fearing the negative connotations of a ‘honey-do’ list, I was hesitant.  Tween son chimed in, “Yeah, I’d like a list too.  That way you don’t have to remind us all day.”

I began the ritual of leaving each child a list of expectations before leaving forwork.  To my surprise, everything got done.  Without my interference, they were free to go at their own pace.  They had choices – what to do first, when to do it.  Best of all, reports from work-at-home Dad indicated no complaints.  There was no mother to complain to.  No one to resist.

It takes some humility to admit that you, as a parent, could be a roadblock to a child.  Sometimes we get in the way with our well-intentioned involvement believing that we hold the key to success.  But the real prize goes to the child who works through a task on his own, problem-solving and overcoming frustrations along the way.

Parents need only set the expectation, offer hands-off guidance, and stay out of the way.  When a child fails (and he will) natural consequences step in as highly effective teachers.  For example, if a child forgets to make or bring her lunch to school and Mom does not deliver it, said child will be very hungry after school and will enjoy that lunch even more.  And she probably won’t forget it the next day.

Giving responsibility to a child and allowing her to make mistakes is a gift.  Don’t let your child’s complaining or resistance convince you otherwise.  Mother knows best after all.

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