Self-sufficiency is directly related to self-esteem.  The more a child can do for himself, the more capable he feels.   A child who feels capable has a sense of control over his life.  He feels competent because he recognizes his strengths. This, in turn, adds to his sense of self-worth.

When we honor a tween’s ability to make decisions, solve problems and complete tasks, we show him that we trust him and have confidencein him.  This makes it easier for a child to trust his own abilities.  But when we do too many things for a child who is capable of working toward independence, we stunt his social-emotional growth.

Parents become accustomed to doing everything for their children when they are babies.  Often, they forget to hand off self-care tasks as the child develops.  Following are some examples of common pitfalls that persist well beyond the age of competency, listed as what NOT to do.

1. Don’t be a child’s human alarm clock

This occurred to me one day when a co-worker excused herself from a conversation because she had to call her twenty year old son to wake him for a dentist appointment.  I imagine she also reminded him to brush his teeth.

Alarm clocks are simple machines that even young children can learn to operate.  And if they don’t remember to set it, what better way to learn responsibility than to wake late, miss the school bus, and be forced to walk to school?

2. Don’t answer questions for a child

Answering questions for a child is a habit that develops early on when baby-admirers ask ‘How old are you, cutie?’  To which, of course, the parent must respond.  The problem is that some parents forget to stop the practice. Recently I asked an eleven year old if she was hungry.  Her mother jumped in to say, ‘No, she ate before we left the house.’

If we steal a child’s voice, she’ll have a difficult time learning to use it when needed.  Essentially, we are teaching a child that she can’t be trusted to say what she feels.

3. Don’t keep all the chores for yourself

Given the right tools, instruction, and freedom, even the smallest of children can handle daily tasks like making lunch.  When my youngest was born and demanded a great deal of attention, her siblings (ages four and six) whined for their lunch.  I told them that they had two choices: wait quietly or make it themselves.  Excited by the prospect of having control over their hunger, they jumped at the chance, and have been making their own lunches ever since.  They aren’t as
excited about laundry and bed-making, but they do see the ridiculousness in assuming that I should do it for them.

4. Don’t give advice or solve problems

This is a hard one for parents.  We often make the mistake in assuming that we have all the answers and that children need to be told what they should do.  Certainly we’d like to spare our children from avoidable hurt.  But solving problems for them only delays their maturity and results in the young adult who repeatedly depends on others to bail him out of a pickle.

This is not to say that children shouldn’t be guided.  A parent can ask questions such as, ‘What do you plan to do to make this right?  What will that choice mean?  Tell me the options you considered.’


I like the idea that a parent’s job is to put herself out of a job.  The goal is to teach children how to be self-sufficient contributers to society. The great big world is shocking to a child who has not learned to care for himself early on.  We can hardly fault a 20-something who is irresponsible if we have failed to provide opportunities in the formative years for him to practice.  I invite you to make a list of all the things you do for your child and start handing them over.  Someday, your child will thank you for making his transition from the nest just a little bit easier.

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