You’re a parent. You know that, when it comes to your child, one of your major roles, if not the most important role, is “fixer” or “solver of problems.” Especially in the lower and middle grades, children and teens lean on mom and dad for anything and everything. This is, of course, one of the more comforting aspects of childhood—this notion that someone is always right behind you, or beside you, or perhaps even ahead of you paving the way. The key to problem solving for your child is to demonstrate the process of problem solving so that he can begin to anticipate and solve his own problems.
This transition is meant to be a smooth and steady process. Just as you wouldn’t put your child on a bike for the first time and push her off on her own, you wouldn’t abruptly throw 100 percent of the responsibility to solve a problem on your child either. This is where “problem solving training wheels” come into play. Relinquishing control one step at a time allows your child to get a taste of responsibility, self-advocacy, and independence.
So, how can you bring the training-wheel method into your home? Let’s take a look…
Hand over some (most) of the teacher communication. Of course, the amount of responsibility will depend on your child’s age and comfort level with the teacher. Typically, the start of middle school is a prime opportunity for parents to begin to relax on the micromanaging when it comes to teacher communication. Begin by having children handle email correspondence with the teacher when they encounter a problem or question about the classwork or homework. This not only shows children how to correspond or ask clear questions via email, but it reinforces the idea that this is THEIR education—not anyone else’s. Furthermore, teachers greatly appreciate a student’s inquiry because it demonstrates self-advocacy.
Model proactive practices. This not only teaches your child to plan ahead, but it also helps to prevent those last-minute fires that seem to ignite at the worst possible times. Take the almighty ink cartridge, for instance. Waiting until the morning off to print an assignment is just asking for trouble. Instead, help your child by encouraging him to finish assignments in advance so that empty ink cartridges or jammed printers are no longer a possibility. The same goes for projects, field trips, show and tell, etc.—prepare ahead of time to avoid the stress and struggle of unforeseen complications.
Try to avoid interfering with problems in progress (this is not going to be easy…) Again, it’s human nature for parents to want to shield their children from conflict—we’d rather absorb the pain or fix the problem on their behalf. This, however, is not always in the best interest of the child. By swooping in and alleviating the issues for them, children will not learn to manage on their own. Again, this is not to suggest that you leave your child to her own devices when major problems arise; use your judgment to assess how and when your interference is necessary. As difficult as it may be, a “hands-off” approach when dealing with small, day-to-day issues can greatly improve a child’s self-esteem, independence, sense of responsibility, and problem-solving skills.