Using Covid-19 as an Opportunity to Help Kids Develop Independence

By Matt Albert, Ed.D.

“Dad.” “Daaad.” “Daaaaaaad!!!” All day. Every day. Yep, this is the new soundtrack of my life, and probably many of yours. My home office (my bedroom) is part workspace, part maze of paper stacks, and part homeschool. It’s crazy. I have two kids, ages 10 and 12. I’m not proud to admit that more than once a day during the lockdown I want to bonk their heads together like the Three Stooges. Obviously, I don’t, but when the stay-at-home orders started, it was a shock to all our systems. Those first few weeks were a seemingly never-ending stream of neediness. I have a feeling I wasn’t alone.

My academic research and my work in schools have led me back to the same understanding about the immense importance of lessons learned outside of the classroom, the lessons we all want our kids to learn in order for them to have the brightest futures (and not live in the basement when they are 25). It can be summed up by something Michelle Obama said:

“The mother that I am today is a direct result of Marian Robinson. The thing she always said that I remember is that, she told me and my brothers, ‘I wasn’t raising children, I was raising adults.’”

It may seem counterintuitive, but now is the right time to get focused on raising adults, especially because we are in these strange times. Adult skills include not only independence but also responsibility and helpfulness. Here are a few ideas to try out that can build up your child’s ‘adult skills’.

  1. Model New Behaviors
  2. Set up “Alone” Times and Let Kids Be Bored
  3. Experiment With Bedtime
  1. Model New Behaviors

“Daaad, can I have water?” (obviously in a somewhat whiny voice). This one seems to be playing on a loop in our house. Slightly annoyed and without thinking, I jump up and get the water. But I started to think about why I was doing a task that they could so clearly do themselves. The reason, I realized, was just so they wouldn’t keep interrupting me while I worked. A quick fix for sure, but one that guarantees I will be doing it all through the day. So I started a new approach. The next time I got the “can I have water” question, my answer was simple: “Yes,” I said. The first time, I got a blank stare back and neither of us moved. When pressed, my response was “of course you can have water. You know where the cups are.”

It worked! It turns out my kids can actually get a cup, turn on the faucet, fill their cup, and drink! All by themselves. I have genius kids.

  1. Set “Alone” Times and Let Kids Be Bored

“I’m booored.” (also whiny). If I never hear this again I might achieve nirvana. Boredom is something kids often complain about and that parents often reflexively try to fix. While in lockdown, it’s like a mantra for my kids. They chant it as if I’m the anti-boredom deity. It makes me want to pull out my hair (which, of course, is in desperate need of a haircut).

But is boredom so bad? A 2019 study, and many before that, found that boredom can spark a surge in imagination and ingenuity. Kids should be encouraged to make up a way to play or find another activity to do. In order for kids to get the “Brain Benefits of Boredom,” don’t rush in with a solution. This creates space for your child to come up with their own solution. It might not happen the first or second time, but it’s worth the payoff if you stick to it. It can also set boundaries for parents to have their own time to breathe or work, and it lets kids know that even though you’re in the house, you aren’t available to meet all their needs every second of the day.

  1. Experiment With Bedtime

Bedtime. The thought of it makes me shudder. Honestly, by 9 pm I just want to get in bed with a book or zone out in front of the TV. Bedtime is definitely a nice quiet time to connect with your kids, but it can feel interminable. If you’ve nagged, cajoled, or even yelled a little bit as you try to get your kids to sleep, you are not alone. With older school-age kids, bedtime can be a responsibility-generating opportunity. Anecdotally, families are staying up later and sleeping in more during the coronavirus. This is an excellent chance to try out some things that can lead to independence around going to bed. On their own, kids can get into pajamas, brush teeth, pick a book and even decide when to turn off their light. It is extremely empowering for a child to be able to read in bed and choose when to go to sleep. This is a particularly good time to experiment because our mornings aren’t the usual rush to get out of the house.

It May Take Some Time

Difficult situations are fantastic opportunities to enhance our coping ability and resilience. The psychiatrist Regina Pally often suggests that we ‘reframe the difficulty’ into something positive. For example, it could be an opportunity to discover a new strength, or to learn a new skill. Covid-19 is a difficult situation for us all. But it can be used as an opportunity to help cultivate responsibility and independence in our kids. And as an added benefit it might help create a greater sense of family togetherness and help grow some new parenting strengths. Learning new ways to engage with our kids and for our kids to learn new ways to behave can take time. The point is to keep trying. Be patient. Stick with it. If you keep it up, eventually you’ll start to see some success.

Grandparents and Kids: It’s a Win-Win

If you are lucky enough to have parents who want to spend time with your kids, make it happen. A research study at Oxford shows that “a high level of grandparental involvement increased the well-being of children.” Their study of more than 1,500 children showed that those with a high level of grandparental involvement had fewer emotional and behavioral problems.

How Parents Are More Alike Than Different

I will be presenting about Reflective Parenting to therapists and parents in China in May 2019. What I have learned in preparing for my presentation has amazed and pleased me. Much to my surprise, it turns out that the Chinese know a lot about and are very interested in our more western ways of parenting. In fact they invited me to speak there.

Think for yourself in this age of abundant expert advice

Reflective Parenting encourages parents to think for themselves. This is because ‘there’s no one right way to parent’, ‘no one size fits all’  and there’s always more than one way to handle any situation you may face with your child. Now, Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown gives one of the best arguments I’ve ever seen in favor of these ideas. Here is a link to her opinion piece in the New York Time that is adapted from her forthcoming book “Cribsheet”.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/19/opinion/sunday/baby-breastfeeding-sleep-training.html

In it she supports what we always tell parents, ‘it’s fine to learn from what the experts have to say. But only put their advice into practice if it makes sense to you and if it works for who your child is and for who you are.’

Authoritative Parenting Works

This is a good article, but the title is deceiving. The title implies that helicopter parenting helps kids achieve more: an implication I disagree with. I think the problem is that the author does not fully understand what helicopter parenting actually means.

The author describes ‘helicoptering’ as a parent who is very involved with their child, insisting on hard work and achievement and who structures their child’s whole day, leaving no downtime. But that is not what the term ‘helicopter parent’ in fact refers to. A helicopter parent is one who over protects their child and tries to eliminate all the bumps in the road. A helicopter parent jumps in too quickly to fix a difficult situation and tries too hard to avoid situations that would make their child uneasy or uncomfortable. The problem with helicopter parenting is that it prevents the child from learning how to cope with challenging situations and developing resiliency. Once they are away from the care of their parent, they can’t manage well on their own. It is like the phrase, use it or lose it. A child who does not learn to manage when times are rough while they are young, ends up kind of handicapped when they have to make the transition to adult life.

So why do I say it is a good article? The article is actually about the value of being involved with your child and using an authoritative approach to parenting rather than an authoritarian approach: two claims I totally agree with. The point is there are some very good ideas buried underneath the helicopter.

(1) Being involved speaks for itself. Children don’t do well if their parents are too detached or too permissive. Being involved gives children a feeling connection and that someone cares.

(2) Being authoritative means that the parent is confident, feels ‘in charge’ and recognizes that a child needs guidance and limits, but also respects the child’s autonomy so they leave some wiggle room.  By contrast, an authoritarian parent is controlling, demands obedience, tends to be more rigid and usually will resort to some type of aggression when a child does not cooperate as expected.  It is the authoritative parent’s sense of confidence and competence, that enable’s the parent to guide and set limits without resorting to coercion, hostility, or aggression. Underlying the authoritarian approach is usually a parent who has difficulty not being in control or difficulty with the child being a separate person, with their own perspective on the world. Reflective Parenting is designed to help parents be more authoritative and less authoritarian. We do this by helping parents to self-reflect and get in touch with the underlying reasons that are leading them to be over-controlling and hostile.

(3) Parents who work hard, care about doing well and try to achieve their best tend to raise children who do the same. The reason is uncertain. It could be they are good role models for children. Or it could be something genetic.

What I don’t like about this article: It is a one size fits all approach. Everyone is different. I believe parents would be wise to adjust their parenting approach to the needs of their child.

Interview with Regina Pally

Posted by: reflectivecommunities Tags: There is no tags | Categories: Reflective parenting

January
8

Regina Pally, Co-Director of CRC was interviewed by Agnes Regeczkey of the New Center for Psycho-analysis. In the interview (click here to watch), Dr. Pally talks about Center for Reflective Communities and about her book, The Reflective Parent: How to do less and relate more with your kids.

The interview is about 1 hour. Here are some of the topics it covers: What it means to be reflective and why it is important; Why we misunderstand each other so often and what we can do about it; How to reduce stress as a parent; The tools for building and maintaining a strong relationship with your child, so that you can be both comforting and empathic, but also be able to firmly set limits.

Free Range Parenting

I was asked by a news magazine called ‘In My Area News Room’ to write something about Free Range Parenting and whether we need it or not. I was delighted to do it because they were interested in my ideas about Reflective Parenting, In brief what I say is that Free Range Parenting has a lot of positive elements and that its goal of promoting independence and resiliency are good ones. However, the Free Range approach is limited both in how it deals with parents and its unbalanced focus on independence. It is judgmental of parents and ignores the value of dependency. Read More

Turn the Heat Down this Holiday

Beloved relatives you rarely see.  Long hours of travel spent for short social stints. Harried cooking and last-minute prepping. Starched shirts and three-inch heels. Expectations for this day to be special, to result ipicture-perfectct memories, to taste delicious.

All of these factors put heat on parents – pressure to perform for others and make Hallmark moments for their families. What will Uncle Roger think of my family? What will Grandma Irene think of my parenting? Read More

Reflective Parenting Helps When Your Best Intentions Backfire

Here is a common scenario that occurs in many families. Parents to try to have a discussion with their child about a topic that they assume will be helpful for the child. But the child balks at engaging in the discussion. The parents, feeling armed with good intentions try even harder to have the discussion, because as they say, “We are only trying to be helpful”. The parents end up being frustrated when the child continues to refuse to talk or listen. The topic differs in each family, but the underlying issue remains the same. Read More