One of the most valuable courses I have ever taken is called Developing Capable Young People. It was developed by H. Stephen Glenn, Ph.D., and Jane Nelson, Ed.D. Much of what follows was taken almost verbatim from one of the courses’ texts, Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World. Part of the course discusses barriers to developing capable children. These are behaviors that undermine self-confidence, reduce closeness and trust, and convey disrespect for children’s worth and capabilities. Each barrier behavior reduces the capacity of a relationship to support, affirm, and encourage the less mature party and diminishes his self-confidence. When we do nothing more than eliminate these barriers, we experience a substantial improvement in all our relationships with children. When each barrier is replaced by a builder, we enjoy a much greater improvement in our relationships with our children. Builders are behaviors that consistently affirm and validate young people and our belief in their capabilities.
One of the barrier behaviors that I am constantly finding myself doing is Directing. It is when you tell your child to, “Do this, and then do that, and when you’re done do this.” Directing conveys disrespect for the child’s worth and capabilities. When you consistently tell a person what to do, it invites hostility, resistance, aggression, and/or passive-aggressive behavior. Think of how you would feel if your boss micro-managed everything you do at work. Instead of directing, the corresponding builder behavior is to Encourage and to Invite. If the livingroom is a mess of toys and cast off clothes, you could direct your child to pick up their stuff (for the millionth time). And they may not be very happy about it. Or, you could invite them to help solve a problem. You can explain to them that with all the things on the floor, you can’t walk across the room without the threat of twisting an ankle and falling. What can they think of to help solve this problem? Or your sanity really prefers that the livingroom have the floors clear- and what’s their idea of making this a reality? Whenever people are invited or encouraged to contribute, they are generally willing, cooperative, and responsive. Children feel encouraged when we see them as assets rather than objects, regard mistakes as opportunities to learn rather than as failures, and invite participation and contributions rather than directing and demanding compliance.
If you are used to telling your child to do this and do that, all the time, try even once a day to invite or encourage them to help problem solve. You’ll be surprised that even a young child of 2 or 3 can contribute. And when you raise your very young child to problem solve on a regular basis, you are doing one of the best things you can for them: building their self-worth and problem solving skills.