by Jane Nelsen
Parents make a mistake when they pamper in the name of love. Pampering creates weakness because children develop the belief that others should do everything for them. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to allow them to develop the belief, "I am capable." Children feel capable when they learn that they can survive the ups and downs of life.
But first let's define what we mean by "Avoid Pampering." We are NOT talking about love, affection and connection. Giving hugs is not pampering. Giving compliments is not pampering. Validating feelings is not pampering.
Pampering is doing things for our children that they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. The fact is, our children are born with an innate desire to do things for themselves and begin to express that desire around the age of two. We are all familiar with the toddler who says "Me do it!" Too many parents say, "No, you are too little. Go play." Then when they are older and we ask them to help, we are surprised when they say, "No. I'm playing."
Parents often do things for their children for expediency. They may be in a hurry or they are afraid their children will not do it "right" or perfectly. That is why it is important to "take time for training." This means showing them how and then letting them practice. Do things "with" young children until they are old enough and practiced enough to graduate to doing things by themselves. It will still often take longer and not be perfect, but remember we are striving for long-term results. We need to give our children opportunities to become responsible, capable young people.
A good way to think about this concept is to ask yourself, "Would I do this for an adult friend?" If the answer is "No", then it is probably best to allow your child to experience the responsibility of doing it themselves. But remember that the feeling behind what you do is just as important as what you do. Avoiding Pampering is not an opportunity to shame or blame your child. This is an opportunity to kindly but firmly allow them to develop the skills they will need to survive in this world. So don't get angry if your child wants you to do something for them. Be positive and supportive and show faith in them to accomplish the task or solve the problem.
Examples of Pampering:
- Doing the dishes even though your child has that on their list of jobs for the day.
- Making your child's bed because you like the bed to be made each morning, but don't want your child to suffer through making it themselves.
- Making a separate dinner for a picky eater.
- Driving to school because your child forgot their lunch. (If it becomes a habit. Everyone forgets things occasionally.)
- Allowing your child to play video games all day because you don't want to deal with the tantrum when you ask them to stick to the agreement on screen time.
Tool in Action
I haven’t met a parent who doesn’t pamper their kids, at least some- times. I say that without judgment since I know I’m not alone when it comes to doing too much for my kids and trying to rescue them to save them from disappointment. I also know we all do this in the name of love.
How many of you have driven back home (even been late to work) to bring your child’s homework to school? Maybe you have written a note or made a call with whatever excuse you could come up with to rescue your child from experiencing the consequences of his or her actions. What about running back inside the house to grab coats, lunch pails, backpacks, sports gear, or whatever else they may not survive without? I’m guessing that this “favor” also came with at least a tiny lecture about what would’ve happened or how they would’ve felt had Mom not rescued them.
How about this one: have you made separate meals for each child because it was easier than hearing them complain about what you cooked—or you couldn’t stand the thought of sending them to bed starving?
While working on this tool, I have to wonder why I’m still washing their hair, re-brushing their teeth, tying their shoes, and picking up the stuff they’ve left on the floor or counter. Mainly it’s quicker, more efficient, less hassle, I don’t have to listen to their excuses, and I’m sick of constantly repeating myself.
Please tell me I’m not alone. Tell me you need this tool as much as I do. Do you feel as guilty as I do to realize I’m robbing my children of so many opportunities to feel capable?
Okay, so it’s not all about guilt. It is about awareness and under- standing. We can learn from our mistakes and work on improvement. A few thoughts that can help:
- I can learn to stop taking my kids’ forgetful, picky, age-appropriate, and sometimes annoying behaviors personally.
- I can remind myself that it’s not about me and what others will think. It is about my children’s abilities and capabilities for the future.
- I can remember that my job is not to make my boys suffer, but to allow them to suffer so they can build strong “disappointment muscles,” resilience, and the feeling of capability to solve problems.
- I’m more effective as a mom when I take time for training and allow my extremely capable boys to do more for themselves.
What a gift to them. And what a gift to myself.
I was provided with one opportunity to avoid pampering when I received a call from my son Greyson’s school. When I saw the school’s number on my caller ID, I immediately panicked. When I heard his sweet voice, I panicked even more. (Since when do they let you call home for forgotten homework?)
Greyson said, “Hi, Mom. I left my homework in your car. Is there any way you could bring it to me? If I don’t have it by recess, I’m going to have detention.”
I immediately visualized my poor boy trapped inside instead of doing what’s natural and downright necessary—playing outside. Ugh! His precious voice was pulling on my heartstrings, and I was struggling big-time not to say, “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
Instead, I thought about this as an opportunity to build his resilience and learn from his mistake, even if it meant he would be mad at me for not rescuing him. I can guarantee it was harder on me than him when I said no.
Of course he survived. He was able to sit in the classroom and redo his homework and then help the teacher; which he admitted to loving. Because I avoided rescuing him, he had the special time with his teacher, and he hasn’t forgotten his homework since then.
I was reminded of the time I was in the second grade and I forgot my lunch. My teacher had me go to the office to call my mom so she could bring it. The conversation went like this:
“Hi, Mom. I left my lunch on the table. Will you please bring it to me?”
My mom replied, “I’m so sorry, honey, that doesn’t work for me.”
She didn’t lecture. Instead, in a kind way, she validated my feelings and said, “I know you’re disappointed, and probably mad that I won’t bring it to you. I’m happy to brainstorm solutions when you get home.”
Some parents gasp in horror at the idea of letting their child go hungry for one meal. First of all, I know this won’t hurt them nearly as much as me depriving them of the deeper, internal hunger to feel capable. Secondly, I know they won’t go hungry. They will have plenty of opportunities to eat the healthful sandwich their friend was going to throw in the garbage.
I remember how surprised the office staff was when I told them my mom wasn’t bringing my lunch. I wasn’t surprised. By now I had enough experience to know that basically I needed to learn the natural consequences of my actions.
Many years later I can attest that I never forgot my lunch again, and am now pretty responsible about remembering to bring whatever I need for the day. Had my mom rescued me, I can almost guarantee I would’ve forgotten my lunch again.