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The Hidden Benefit of Building Competency

Posted by Jen on April 7, 2010 at 8:22 AM in behavior
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little bit nervous

When Madeleine was in first grade, she had a really rough bout of anxiety that appeared to be related to her current school situation. Like all typical American mothers I obsessed, read books and concluded there must be something terribly wrong. Off to the pediatrician, my knight in shining armor for all such occasions, and asked for his take on what was going on.

He, of course, would have nothing of my theories before checking in with Madeleine first. Together they discussed the possible reasons for her worries and agreed it wouldn't hurt anyone if she checked in with Dr. Dianne, the resident developmental psychologist on staff.

Madeleine, in the same way that squeaky sound always stops when you take your car to the mechanic, was a picture of mental health when interviewed by Dr. Dianne. While she did think a different kind of school would be ideal for Madeleine, Dr. Dianne had another, more immediate solution to Madeleine's worries.

Chores. And a healthy dose of self-directed self-care.

Do you make your bed? she asked.
Neither one of us had the heart to tell her that no one in our entire family ever made their bed under any circumstances.

Can you get your own breakfast? she quizzed.
At this stage of my mothering career, I was all into the shake and pour pancake scene. It had not occurred to me that Madeleine could be responsible for much of anything, let alone her breakfast.

A six year old girl can do a lot of things for herself, Dr. Dianne said. You'd be surprised how great that feels.

We ended up changing schools for the new year, and it absolutely helped. But what helped more was Dr. Dianne's nudge to help Madeleine overcome her anxiety by gaining mastery over simple tasks--like pouring her own juice and grabbing her breakfast bar of choice. I took a step back after that and while we still aren't big on bed-making, there are a lot more signs of competency around here.

As an eleven year old, Mad knows how to make some key contributions that matter. I know now when she's antsy or anxious that enlisting her support is the first line of defense. She can get Carter and company out the door when I am powering out a deadline, and she knows how to snack and water the gaggle of neighborhood kids when she gets home.

I'm still not going to win any awards when it comes to enforcing chores, but I know how to ask for greater participation in the ebb and flow of family life.

How do you encourage your kids to take care of themselves? On the continuum of hovering parent and boot camp supervisor, where do you fall? Is your house a tightly run ship or a kid-nation free-for-all? Tell us how you build competency and self-confidence in the comments below.


Emily writes...

Jen, what a great post! You've got me thinking about my own breakfast rituals and how my kids can be doing more. Thanks for getting me thinking on this! xoxo

Kami writes...

I loved reading your post. I have been trying to get my son to do more on his own but still seem to take over if I feel he is to make a mess. I think parents do things for their children because it is quicker and easier. This opened my eyes to having a little more patience with him and encourage him to keep trying.

Florence writes...

When I was six my grandmother who was raising me made sure I could get myself off to school. She wanted to be sure if she died and I had to live with someone else (?) I wouldn't be a "burden." She never told me this, just taught me how to get up, get dressed, make breakfast, pack a lunch and go to the bus stop all on my own. She purposely stayed in bed until I was about to leave, gave me a big kiss and sent me on my way several days a week.
Only now that I am the mother of four and see how difficult it is to get them all off on time do I appreciate, once again, my grandmother's wisdom. My third graders help me with my kindergartners. They actually set the table and cook eggs while I pack lunches.
It has enhanced the way they all get along as well as taken some of the work off my shoulders...and they are all very proud of what they can do. Each kid brings their dishes to the sink and even my son puts his dished in the dishwasher after eating. Making meaningful contributions to the family life is a great confidence builder. An added benefit is a sense of belonging, even security. While "chores" aren't as common today as they once were, neither are self-confident kids!? Its the same idea, just under a different name.

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