Answer true or false to the following statements:
When my children ask for something to eat, I typically stop what I am doing and get it for them.
My child uses an electronic device to pass the time whenever she is required to wait for anything.
If my child forgets a book for his homework, I will drive him back to school to get it.
If all of my child’s friends have the latest gadget, I will also buy one for my child.
I have to run around getting supplies the night before a project is due, because my child waits until the last minute to work on the assignment.
My child does fewer than two chores a day.
My child has very little free time during the week because of all the extracurricular activities she has.
I receive more than two or three messages from my child per day asking me questions, even during school hours.
I buy something for my children when we are at the store as a reward for not putting up a fuss about going.
If I am not at an agreed meeting place the second my child arrives there, I receive a call asking where I am.
According to Dr. Darlene Sweetland and Dr. Ron Stolberg, and their new book, Teaching Kids to Think: Raising Confident, Independent, and Thoughtful Children in an Age of Instant Gratification, if you answer yes to any of the statements above, you might be falling into parent traps.
What are parent traps? Sweetland and Stolberg explain that a parent trap is “a situation in which parents are drawn to solve problems for their children or rescue them in a way that ultimately stifles growth opportunities. We have seen many parent traps in practice, where parents work harder than their children to solve their children’s dilemmas or problems. Of course, you want to assist your child in any way you can. The difference is in whether you are giving your children advantages or assisting them in developing the skills that will put them at an advantage. When parents set everything up for their kids, they lose the chance to learn to do things on their own, which ultimately puts them at a disadvantage. On the other hand, when parents assist their children in developing skills so they can gain those advantages themselves, their children truly enter the adult world ahead of the game. With the pressures so strong in this generation, parents often fall into the trap of giving rather than assisting.”
They identify five different parent traps and then outline how you can work to avoid them. I’ve summarized those tips below:
The Rescue Trap. No one likes to see their children struggle. Thus, parents often feel the need to “save” their children when they are hurt, frustrated or angry. However, if we constantly rescue them, they never learn to help themselves. If we drop everything to feed our nine-year-old the moment he says he is hungry, he will never learn to find his way around the kitchen (or the grocery store) in the future.
What can you do? Take a backseat. Let your child struggle. Ultimately he will be stronger and know how to succeed the next time. If he really tries and really fails, then you can save him.
The Hurried Trap. Today’s children are used to instant gratification as they live in a fast-paced society with access to information and entertainment at all time. Parents who fall into the “hurried trap” respond immediately to their children’s requests and desires. This means that when they are forced to wait it causes anxiety and uncertainty.
What can you do? Pause. Take a step back. Allow your child to wait for things he wants. When it comes to his needs, of course, provide them, but don’t constantly jump at his beck and call. He’ll learn patience and gratitude.
The Pressure Trap. Many children are engaged in so many different activities because their friends are on the competitive sports team or the math club. They are overscheduled and have little or no unstructured time. This can lead to the common complaint of boredom as children will never gain the ability to entertain themselves.
What can you do? Schedule free time. Let your children learn to entertain themselves. At first, this will be difficult and they will complain of boredom, but eventually they will gain powerful problem-solving and imaginative skills.
The Giving Trap. Who doesn’t want to give their kids everything? It’s hard to say no when it’s a 99 cent toy at the dollar store, but children need to understand that they cannot always get what they want. Otherwise, they will fall apart when they encounter rejection later in life.
What can you do? Occasionally, make your children earn what they want. Even young children can learn they need to help with tasks to earn the things they want. And, if you call those things “goals” you are teaching your child to work toward a goal.
The Guilt Trap. When we feel we make mistakes as parents, we often feel guilty. We then take on the responsibility of causing the child unhappy feelings. This makes it very tempting to give in and go back on the difficult consequences.
What can you do? Be kind to yourself. Understand that parenting is about learning and growing and doing your best. If you truly feel that you made a mistake you can explain to your child, “I was very angry when I told you that you couldn’t… and I’ve decided to change it to…” Everyone is allowed to make mistakes sometimes. Parents too!