After hundreds of talks with parents around the world, here’s what I’ve come to. We parents are the lucky humans given the humbling task of raising a child. We’re supposed to be alongside them, guiding them, giving them more and more room to try, learn, grow, persevere, achieve. But, these days, we can tend to get in the way, by micromanaging our kid’s path or by outright dragging them down it. We think we know what we’re doing—but we end up depriving them of developing self-efficacy. And that leads to anxiety and depression. So. We have to get our act together. We have to get out of our kid’s way so they can develop the skills and smarts they’ll need in order to thrive as adults. Here’s my “Four… Three… Two… One… Go!” method for raising adults:
FOUR: The four steps for teaching your child any skill (which I learned from my awesome friend Stacey Ashlund):
You do it for them
You do it with them
You watch them do it
They do it on their own
THREE: The three things you gotta stop doing ASAP:
Stop saying “we” when you really mean your child (e.g. “We’re on the soccer team.” No, you’re not!)
Stop arguing with teachers, coaches, etc. Teach your kid to respectfully advocate for themselves.
Stop doing their homework.
TWO: The two things that really matter when it comes to parenting:
Chores and love.
The longest study of humans ever conducted shows that those who were professionally successful in life did chores as a kid (or had a part time job in high school). Why? Doing chores teaches a kid a work ethic. They learn to roll up their sleeves, pitch in, do the stuff that must be done, even the unpleasant stuff, in order to contribute to the greater whole. That’s what gets them ahead in the workplace.
Love seems pretty obvious, but these days we tend to show our kids conditional love (we love them when they’re getting the results we’re proud of) instead of unconditional love (we love them no matter what). You want to be loved unconditionally, right? Well, so does your kid.
ONE: The one-week cleanse to get your relationship with your kid back on track:
Put down your technology (and make them put down theirs), look them in the eye, and start by saying this:
“Hey kid, I know I’m always asking you about how you did on tests, why you got the grade you got, whether you’ve done your homework, and whatnot, and I know that that can make you feel like I think you don’t care about these things. I’m sorry about that.” (i.e. define and own the problem)
“I know you do care.” (i.e. reinforce their agency)
“So, I’ve decided that for one week I’m not going to ask a single thing about your academics. Tests, homework, projects, whatever it may be, I’m not going to ask.” (i.e. make a commitment to do things differently)
“I know you’ve got this.” (i.e. reinforce their agency again, and show you believe in them)
Why do I recommend this? Well, when you’re constantly checking up on the academic transactions in their life, you make your kid feel like a stock in the stock market (as if you might dump the stock if it underperforms). And if you have one of those insidious parent portals at your school (where you can see each teacher’s grade book at every moment of every day) this breeds a kind of obsessive tracking that makes the kid feel wary and frightened, as if someone is constantly looking over their shoulder (because in effect, you are!). You want your kid to have agency in their life. You want them to feel believed in but not hovered over. Doing the one week cleanse makes room for your kid to show up in their own life in the ways you and they will ultimately feel proud of. In place of “How did the math test go?” you can ask “What’s good in life these days?” or “What did you like about school today?” And the key is, take a genuine interest in whatever they say. Our kids are hungry to be loved for who they are. Taking an interest in whatever interests them is a great way to show your love.
Parents tell me that after the one week cleanse they see these results:
• kid is better behaved
• kid does their own work
• kid appears to be happier
• parent is less anxious
• more laughter in the home
In fact, after one week, you may find that your whole parent/child dynamic has changed. The question then becomes, how do you incorporate this wisdom into daily life? Because I mean yes, you may want to know what’s up academically, but maybe now that you’ve had your cleanse you can ask for academic updates once a week instead of every day! Maybe you won’t even need to ask anymore because you’ve made room for your kid to start opening up to you on their own volition.