It’s tempting to fix our children’s problems for them. If it takes money, the dollar amount is usually small so it’s not a big deal for us – and it would make them ever so happy to be able to afford the fancy gumball. But in many cases, coming to the rescue with money is the last thing we should do, as it may hinder teaching kids responsibility and nurturing a sense of accomplishment.
A friend of mine is a schoolteacher and often tells the story of Sally, one of his 7th grade students some 40 years ago. She came from a very well-to-do family in Minnesota but knew the value of hard work. Sally was a nice kid with attentive and supportive parents. While there were many well-adjusted kids in the school, she stood out – especially when compared to some who fit the classic stereotype of “rich kids.”
One day Sally came to school beaming with excitement. She had passed her Ten-Speed Test! He asked the natural question – “What is a Ten-Speed Test?” Sally explained that in her family, the children were responsible for getting themselves to school every morning. As long as it wasn’t raining (in which case her parents would drive her) she would either have to walk or ride her bike to school. Of course the time she saved was considerable if she rode her bike, but her parents had rules governing the use of a bike.
Since the ride to school included different streets of varied congestion, she had to demonstrate that she could handle riding in traffic and making complex turns. The Ten-Speed Test also included several maintenance elements – changing a flat, adjusting the brakes, replacing a chain, cleaning and inspecting the gears, and lubricating the moving parts. Once her parents were confident that she could handle the responsibility by administering the Ten-Speed-Test, she earned the right to ride to school.
These super-parents didn’t stop there. Sally’s parents were early adopters of the cross-country skiing movement in the 1970s and used this to continue the lesson of responsibility. The family worked together to make their own cross-country skis out of old downhill skis – they sized the skis, replaced the bindings, and waxed the “new” skis. (Just like you I was curious what happened if it snowed; the answer - the parents had no issues with the kids walking or skiing to school in the snow – the only way they got a ride was if it was raining.)
The time required to teach kids how to ride and maintain bikes is a big commitment. Teaching them how to make and use their own skis sounds even more complex. It’d be much easier to just take them to school on the way to work and avoid this all together. But think of the gift that Sally’s parents gave her. Aside from the practical knowledge of fixing a bike and making skis, she learned responsibility and generated a real sense of accomplishment after passing each test.
How can you stop solving your kids’ problems and teach them to solve it themselves? Think of the gift you will be giving them!