I recently heard about a mother who was quite literally still wiping her child’s bum at the age of eight. I was horrified. Now when I have such a strong judgemental reaction to any trait that I come across in another I like to look and see where I might be doing that too. So no, I am not still wiping my kids’ actual bottoms, but I wondered where I might metaphorically be playing this out in my family. And I found more than a few examples – making their lunch boxes, running their baths, brushing their hair, getting involved in their squabbles.
When our children get to Primary School age it is definitely high time to step back and let them start living their own lives and taking on some responsibility. I work with too many young adults who are debilitated by well-meaning parents who have never let them grow up.
I propose that by the time your kids leave Primary School they should be able to do all of the following:
Make their own lunch boxes and even prepare a family meal
Food is an essential part of life and our children should never leave home without a clue on basic nutrition and how to prepare it for themselves. Growing and preparing food ought to be the most primary thing that we teach our kids, and preferably as early as possible.
Take care of their own personal hygiene
Washing behind their ears, brushing and washing their hair, caring for their teeth, washing their clothes, keeping their environment hygienic… If we’re still on their case about this at high school age then our kids have not internalized the need for personal self-care and we need to hand that over ASAP!
Earn and manage their own money
Children need to learn that money doesn’t just arrive in your bank account (or pocket) and that when it runs out it doesn’t just replenish itself. It sounds basic, but we give our kids so much information on saving and budgeting and other money issues that we consider important and yet skip the step about how you get money in the first place by just handing them an allowance.
Solve their own problems
Children learn to problem solve by doing just that. As much as we want to protect our kids we aren’t doing them any favours by interfering in sibling fights, contacting the parents of their arch-enemies to sort things out, or calling parent-teacher meetings for every little disagreement. Definitely be a sounding board for your child’s current issues, but keep throwing that ball back into their court. We want empowered kids who know how to state their boundaries and stand up for themselves and who learn the basic skills of negotiation and interpersonal conflict resolution.
Manage their own needs and schedules
Even from the first grade children can wake up with their own alarm, check a timetable, pack what they need for the day, ensure they have lunch and snacks and additional warm clothing if necessary. Us parents need to stop checking and double checking, running to school to drop off items left behind, and sneaking in an extra sweater in case our baby gets chilly. One day without lunch, one cold evening without the right clothing, or even once having to use their own cash to replace a lost item will teach a child much more about personal responsibility than any lecture from you about looking after themselves and their stuff.
We need to encourage our children as early as possible to ask questions, voice their opinion, express their needs, request help and make announcements. As parents we must stop answering other adults for our kids and let our children know they they have a voice and what they say counts.
We need to start thinking about the main goal of parenting – to raise independence. We want kids who are capable, confident and skilled enough to make it in life on their own. The family home is the place to practice life skills and make mistakes with a decent safety net still in place. It is the training ground for an independent life. In order for our kids to be prepared for life outside the home they need plenty of opportunities to make their own decisions, face their own consequences, and manage their own lives.
We all kind of know when it is appropriate to stop wiping their bottoms, so why do we have such a hard time letting them become independent in all areas of life? It is time to ask ourselves which apron strings need to be cut!