I see it all around me. Kids and young adults struggling – stressing – with social, emotional and responsibility adjustment.
Article after article I’ve read lately worry that we are causing out kids to be super stressed out and are trying to figure out life for them to make it less stressful. But let’s look at it another way. Maybe we aren’t stressing our children enough the right way and causing them the actual problems we are hoping to avoid.
There are huge societal and cultural changes within families leading to this crisis. Not only are most children today under-invested in the family household structure or economy where they have responsibilities, but childhood interactions with one another have radically changed. Most importantly, we have all but stopped the normal, healthful stressing of kids that has happened for the previous generations. Does that sound too tough?
Let me explain…then give some applications.
Stressing a Child is a bit like Stressing Puppies…It Must be Done with a Goal in Mind.. Purposefully.. Carefully
At 8 days old, we gently took them for 10-20 seconds from Anna. Boy, did they let us know they were unhappy! But right back they went to mama, and we would gently pat them and say, “There, there, it’s okay!”
Every day we would gradually take them for a bit longer and a bit farther (with verbal encouragement), but right back they’d go to mom. After a week, they learned they would be fine. They became calmer.
At 3 weeks, we would take each of them them away from the litter alone and walk around with them and let them sniff out new places and to where they couldn’t see their Mama or litter mates or hear them. Of course, the kids played and roughhoused (appropriately) with them a lot! And finally, we actually put them in a small ring with several noisy, feisty hens that were way bigger than them. At first they cowered and were nervous but soon became comfortable and confident with the hens’ bluster.
It was a great little business for the children, and they did really well at it. One of the reasons it succeeded (and people would pay a premium for our puppies) is because the puppies grew to be exceptionally well-adjusted and eager-to-work adult dogs. They were confident and comfortable with their role, and they could be counted on.
While that isn’t a perfect analogy and puppies are very different than children, the outcome is intended to be quite the same.
Proper Stressing Means Mental Growth!
Veterinary Dr. Bruce Fogle’s book “The Dog’s Mind” says that early handling (stressing) in a puppy’s life can be good for the emotional development of the dog and will make him better able to cope with stresses later on in life. Mild stresses early in life influence the adrenal-pituitary system, fine-tuning it to respond in a sensitive and graded manner later on in life rather than in an all-or-nothing fashion.
According to EEG readings on puppies, dogs mature faster if they undergo mild stresses early in life. They also perform better at problem solving when they are older than do other dogs. Apparently, even mild stress in the newborn period is good for a pup’s mind. Constant temperature, comfort and freedom from adverse conditions do NOT make for better puppies. Mild stress accelerates body growth, reduces emotionality and may even increase resistance to certain diseases. What we can be certain of is that a hands off policy – of leaving it to nature – is definitely NOT in the best interests of the puppy.
Parents will say, “I don’t want my kids stressing. They have enough stress, and I want to protect them and make them happy.” It’s a parent’s job to protect them from harm, sure. But, it’s NOT a parent’s job to totally shield them from stress.
Remember the saying, “No pain, no gain”? Stressing helps us grow.
The best way to reverse the challenges – as old-fashioned common sense suggests – is to allow them to take some risks, to have some falls and scrapes and tumbles and discover that they’re capable and that they can survive being hurt, just like the puppies survived those purposeful stressing moments. Let them play with sticks or even climb in a tree. You as a parent pray a lot, but that’s how they learn how high they can climb and who they really are in varying circumstances.
They need to have the stress of possibly failing a subject to ensure they do the work to pass, which means a parents doesn’t give them the answers. The self-respect from earning money (saving money) to buy a bike is a lot greater than the satisfaction from being given a bike.
Today, kids often (not always) get a new iPhone because there is a new iPhone. No work is required to earn it and no responsibility or pride is generated from working and saving to achieve their goal.
It seems obvious these stresses would be overwhelming as a young adult experiencing them for the first time. I have heard so much lately that, “Adulting is hard.”
Wrong Kind of Stress
Today’s kids are certainly in a stressful environment, but it is an unhealthy kind of stress.
Many are in child-care pretty much from morning until they come home to a fast-food meal or flop into bed — or they’re under the supervision of their parents. They aren’t able to learn to manage their time. They don’t have access to ways to take small risks, so they have no way to live out healthy stress to learn who they are and what they are capable of. There is no arena to make decisions and resolve disputes with their playmates the way that kids were just 30 or 35 years ago.
Stress Them with Reasonable Work as a Contributor In the Family Structure
Children are missing that sense of healthy belonging and contribution within a family structure in the way that a simple household chore can give, like helping mom or dad prepare a meal, clean the cars or the garage or rake leaves. The intended goal is internal satisfaction with a job well done and being a part of something bigger than themselves. Anyone who loves to cook knows it’s so satisfying to feed someone you love and to see that gratitude and enjoyment on their faces. And yes, it is satisfying to have a home that runs more smoothly when every one pitches in.
And kids today are robbed of that.
It’s part of the workings of the whole family. When it’s an understood family agreement, that is powerful. They can see that everyone around them is doing jobs. If they are able to handle small stressors in their youth and increasing responsibility with age, it’s much less of a struggle when they naturally grow into taking over their own household one day.
Kids are so driven by what’s fair and what’s unfair, so it seems only fair that they should contribute also. In this family set up, the more responsibility you give kids, the more they will step up.
12 Quick Tips to Raise a Responsible Child
1. Raise your child with the expectation that we always clean up our own messes.
When kids hear the constant friendly expectation that “We always clean up our own messes…Don’t worry, I’ll help….Here’s the paper towels for you; I’ll get the sponge…” they become both easier to live with and better citizens of the world.
2. Provide routines and structure.
These give a child repeated opportunities to manage themselves through a series of not especially fun tasks. First, they master the bedtime routine and cleaning up toys and getting ready in the morning. Then they develop successful study habits and hygiene. Finally, they learn basic life skills through repetition of household routines like doing laundry or making simple meals.
3. Always let children “do it myself” and “help” even when it’s more work for you.
Toddlers want desperately to master their physical worlds, and when we support them to do that, they step into the responsibility of being “response-able.”
4. Rather than simply giving orders, try asking your child to do the thinking.
You could ask “What’s the next thing you need to do to get ready for ——?” The goal is to keep them focused on their list, day after day, until they internalize it and begin managing their own tasks.
5. Teach your child to be responsible for her interactions with others.
Teach children that their treatment of others has a cost, and that they’re responsible to make restitution when they do damage. Model apologizing or asking forgiveness so they will learn how.
6. Kids need an opportunity to contribute to the common good.
It helps to steadily increase responsibility in age appropriate ways. Invite toddlers to put napkins on the table, three year olds to set places. Four year olds can match socks, and five year olds can help you groom the dog. Six year olds are ready to clear the table, seven year olds to water plants, and eight year olds to fold laundry.
7. Don’t rush to bail your child out of a difficult situation.
Be available for problem-solving, helping him work through his feelings and fears, and to insure that he doesn’t just sidestep the difficulty, but let him handle the problem himself, whether it requires offering an apology or making amends in a more concrete way.
8. Remember that no kid in his right mind wants to do “chores.”
Unless you want your child to think of contributing to the family as drudgery, don’t “make” him do chores without you until they are a regular part of your family routine, and one that your child does not resist. Your goal isn’t getting this job done, it’s shaping a child who will take pleasure in contributing and taking responsibility. Make the job fun. Give as much structure, support, and hands-on help as you need to. Know that it will be much harder than doing it yourself. Remind yourself that there’s joy in these tasks, and communicate that, along with the satisfaction of a job well done. Eventually, he will be doing these tasks by himself. That day will come much faster if he enjoys them.
9. Support your child to help pay for damaged goods.
If kids help pay from their own allowance for lost library books or tools they’ve left out to rust, the chances of a repeat infraction are slim.
10. Model responsibility and accountability.
Be explicit about the responsible choices you’re making:
“It’s a pain to carry this trash till we get to the car, but I don’t see a trashcan and we never litter.”
“This sign says parking is reserved for handicapped people, so of course we can’t take that spot.”
Keep your promises to your child, and don’t make excuses. If you don’t follow through when you promise to pick up that notebook he needs for school, or play that game with him on Saturday, why should he be responsible about keeping his promises and agreements with you?
11. Never label your child as “Irresponsible”
The way we see our kids is always a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, teach him the skills he needs to be responsible. If he always loses things, for instance, teach him to stop anytime he leaves somewhere — his friend’s house, school, soccer practice — and count off everything he needs to take home.
12. All kids need the experience of working for pay. Our kids earned money and the value of it raising puppies
It teaches them real responsibility in the real world. Begin by paying your eight year old to do tasks you wouldn’t normally expect of him (washing the car, weeding the garden), then encourage him to expand to odd jobs in the neighborhood (walk the neighbor’s dog or offer snow shoveling service in the winter), move on to mother’s helper/babysitting jobs when it’s age appropriate, and finally take on after-school or summer jobs. Few settings teach as much about responsibility as the world of working for pay outside the family.
Children change the moment parents change their approach to parenting. Help your kids succeed in life by appropriately stressing and strengthening them sooner than later!
Stressing your kids in a healthy, appropriate way will help them bloom with responsibility and confidence that serves them well for a lifetime!
Excerpts of the above list taken from Aha!Parenting.com
“Our children don’t need us to be perfect (thankfully!). They just need us to be faithful. And God can take that simple faithfulness and turn it into something wonderful in due time.” ~Jonathan Lewis
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” ~Galatians 6:9
If this can help someone else, please Share it!
Thanks for reading!