Balancing Support

Throughout their development, kids need support – emotional support, relational support, physical support, spiritual support, and academic support.  As you study your daughter/son, you will identify areas where she/he will need more support in certain areas than in others.  The objective to wrestle with is identifying how much support to give.  It’s important to offer enough support, but not to hinder their development by offering too much support.  

An area we tend to offer too much support to girls is relational support.  Moms and dads can step into the trap of problem-solving for girls in the face of relational challenges – a friend betrays them, a boyfriend acts like a jerk, a group excludes them.  We step into these moments with statements like “you need to tell her to” or “next time just” or “don’t let her.”  Being there to listen is so important, but giving unsolicited advice can send a message to a girl that she isn’t smart, strong or creative enough to navigate these complicated relational hurdles.   

A number of boys need additional academic support.  The compulsory model of schooling we use in our country is heavy on verbal and written expression, involves a lot of sitting still and auditory instruction.  None of these play to a boy’s strengths.  School can be a challenging environment for boys.  If his learning profile includes any gaps or areas of deficit, the equation simply gets that much more complicated.  Without being aware or ever intending to do so, we can train a boy to believe that he can’t navigate his academic world without consistent support and intervention.  This can start with parents that camp out at the kitchen table beside a boy when he attempts homework.  The message here is that you aren’t smart, strategic, organized, or motivated enough to do the work on your own.  He’d be better served to be seated in proximity while you attend to another task (cooking dinner, paying bills, returning emails, etc) and he attends to his own work.  You are available for questions or places where he gets stuck, but not there to do his work for him or prompt him through his own work.  The long goal is that he become an independent learner.

I’ve officially lost count of the number of young men who were bright or brilliant, some valedictorians, salutatorians and merit scholars, who managed to flunk themselves out of school within one to two semesters because they never learned how to be independent learners.  Unless someone was standing over them, checking a planner, looking online at assignments, helping finish assignments, prompting, redirecting or finishing work, they had no idea how to operate independently.  This made being a student at college a difficult, almost impossible task.  

Equally important is to identify where we could begin nurturing greater independence in multiple areas of our kids’ lives – folding their own laundry, preparing their own lunches, paying their own car insurance, managing their own spending, and the list goes on and on.  

Two amazing questions to ask kids are “What are you thinking?” and “What are you going to do in response to that?”  Take small steps to shift the ownership back your son/daughter as a way of nurturing independence, creativity, resilience, and resourcefulness. 

(Excerpt from Intentional Parenting by Sissy Goff, David Thomas and Melissa Trevathan)