We as parents have a lot of influence over training our kids’ brains and, boy, do we! If every time they forget something they learn that we’ll go get that thing, they learn not to worry, mom or dad have their back. They are smart! If they forget their water bottle when going to the park even if they’ve been reminded, they know dad will buy them a bottle of water at the convenience store since dad is so worried about them drinking enough water.
If they lose their coat on a bus ride for a school field trip, they learn that mom will buy them a new one. If they decide to wear their favorite shirt and don’t remember that there’s messy play ahead with dirt or paint or rocks and hills, they know you’ll buy them a new one if it gets wrecked. They LOVE that shirt, right? They’d be broken-hearted if it was ruined, of course we’re going to get them a new one!
Yep, our kids are smart, and they train us well, don’t they? By not worrying about where their stuff is, they know that we’ll worry for them. Some of you complain that your kids are lazy and I want to let you know that they are smart, that it works for them. They figured out by being lazy that they get to do less. It might mean they hear more nagging from you or even yelling but, in the end, they know you’ll give in. You love them. You care about them. You want life to go well for them, to not have struggles.
The problem with all of our helpfulness is that while it seems loving and helpful at the time it becomes a habit they have trouble breaking and we have trouble breaking it too. We rob them of the opportunity to train their prefrontal cortex to be engaged in life. That’s the part of the brain that makes good decisions including keeping track of where stuff is.
When was the last time you lost something? Who came to your rescue? I recently lost my pair of sunglasses. I’m just so mad at myself since they were prescription ones which means they’re expensive to replace. It hurt when I had to go buy a new pair. No one rescued me and I knew it was my responsibility to come up with a solution. Our kids need to know that when they lose something, they are the ones who lost it, not you. You need to grow their brains so that they learn their stuff is THEIR stuff, not your stuff that they happen to be using. They need to know that when something is gone, they need to own replacing it, not you. It might hurt them financially, or they might be cold until they replace the sweatshirt they lost but the sooner we train our kids to own their stuff, the more we will save them pain and heartache in the long run.
Ok, how do we do that?
1) Turn Off Your “Finder Mom” Radar
I’m a recovering helicopter parent and I had a fine-tuned radar for knowing where things were in my house or car. I always did stuff like carry extra sweatshirts and waters in my car in case someone forgot something. Ha! Silly me! Drill sergeant parents can do this too, they love to be efficient and don’t want to go back home if someone forgets something, right? So, stop noticing where stuff is! When you hear: “Mom, where’s my soccer bag?” or “Where’s my music for band practice?” you’re going to say something like: “Gosh, I don’t know. What a bummer, you really need that don’t you. I’m sorry you can’t find it.” You need to say this all with an empathetic tone of voice. No yelling or telling them, just love. It sucks to not have things we’re supposed to have.
In some cases, your child might have a huge tantrum or meltdown. Your response is the same -- give them love and empathy, no yelling, and no telling and certainly no solving the problem while they’re emotional. Their brains are shut down when emotion is involved.
2) Brainstorm Solutions With Your Kid
Once the crisis has passed, and your child is calm again. I want you to have a one-on-one with them. I want you to ask them if they’d like to brainstorm how to avoid that situation in the future. Let’s say it’s not finding their shoes for sports. You calmly ask what they’re going to do about it so it doesn’t happen next time. If they don’t know, you’ll ask if they’d like to brainstorm some ideas. We don’t want to brainstorm with them if they’re minds aren’t open for business. If they say “no” they don’t want to brainstorm, you let them know that you’re sure they’ll figure something out and that you’re there for them anytime they’d like some help thinking. But you’re not going to solve the problem for them.
If they are interested in brainstorming, come up with some different ideas and have them choose which one they’d like to try first. Keep a list of the other ideas if they’re needed for later in case the first doesn’t work out. Model for your kids that problem solving might take a few iterations to get it right and that’s part of learning and growing our brains. Make it a positive experience! No telling and yelling about how they should have listened to you in the first place.
I know for some of us letting our kids lose things or fail at things can be hard. But, if we can lovingly see them through hard times like those they’ll encounter, then they will build up resilience that will see them through to adulthood. Small mistakes now give them lots of chances to practice owning their lives and deciding how to avoid more painful mistakes later.
Bottomline ... let your kids lose stuff. Let them ruin their favorite shirt. Let them do a bad job packing for their sports activity. Let them forget a warm coat in cold weather. You be there with love and empathy to help them recover.
That’s all for now! If you want more stories and lessons on this topic, go back to Podcast #3 on Building Resilience.