How To Raise Self-Reliant Children (from Barefoot Self-Reliance)
When we have children, we are parenting for society not the individual whim of the child in the moment. Our work is to produce a competent individual who can pick up his own shit, work hard to grow for himself and so subsequently for the good of society – gaining then giving back useful skills and who has a strong ‘can-do’ attitude. I have seen many instances of child-centred parenting where the child is allowed to dictate rules that contravene respect for others (yes, parents count) in favour of his own need and in doing so providing both society and the child a disservice. Some parents feel guilty about having rules or expectations and encourage in the child an oversensitivity to his own emotions and rights; above all else. They carry him and his stuff, feed him when and what he wants and allow his choices to not wear coats or pick up his own mess then when he is older, are still stripping his bed at 15 when he was as physically capable at 12 or 13 as they are and most certainly less busy. I’ve met 18-year-old girls unable to work a washer then moan at their Mum when their laundry isn’t done. I‘ve seen the consequences, over 22 years, of ‘child-centred parenting’ resulting in parents still carrying their teenager; these young people unable to find the effort or skill to take control of their own lives.
Any boundaries and expectations you have for your child; as long as they fall in-line with the permaculture principles of fair shares, people care and earth care are, by Natures laws, fair and it is your duty to enforce them (gently and creatively). Keep your boundaries few but make them absolute. Save your “NO’s!“ to allow freedom of physical and emotional expression within these boundaries but keep those that matter consistently enforced. However tired you are you have to get up and lead/model the good behaviour until it bypasses their cognition (and resistance!) and gets into muscle memory in limb AND heart.
Each birthday my children received gifts and a party; then a new job. “Now you are five you can take your plates to the sink” or “Now you are six you sweep the kitchen floor every Monday after dinner”. The household is a joint responsibility and they do not need paying for such jobs. Pocket money is not a right. Instead, teach them that with increasing rights come increasing responsibility. If you make it like a transitional ritual, each birthday adding a job to their repertoire it will become perfectly natural for them and almost exciting – the idea of ‘growing up’ to the next stage of responsibility. Don’t call household tasks chores or the very language will put them off, instead talk of the joy of feeling organised and tidy, how being active makes you fit, and the importance of sharing work for the good of everyone in the house. Be joyous while you work and get them involved creatively. Use intrinsic not external motivators – so, rather than a reward chart say ‘oh doesn’t it feel nice when your teeth are clean/room is tidy etc.’ as token economies cease to be effective the minute the rewards stop whereas the inner good feeling when an outcome is achieved will remain. If this is not enough to motivate them, use the power of natural consequences; if they don’t do a task you have reasonably requested of them; calmly tell him: “Oh, that’s fine, Mummy will do it but it means I’ll no longer have time to take you to the party/beach later”. He will soon learn your time is valuable too and pick up a brush and help tidy the lunch mess. It’s a fair deal. By carrying everything AND the child you will create self-righteousness. You will become a donkey carrying a weak King.�
If they want cake, tell them “ok I’ll show you how to bake one”, I never bought biscuits or cake, instead we had a weekly baking session that everyone got involved with where the children could exercise their own creativity and produce their own results. My daughter is a fantastic baker in her spare time and my middle son, at 17 started batch making his week’s meals for when he comes in from work.
Don’t tidy their bedrooms for them. Some mothers can’t help but tidy – if this is you ask why? What does it serve for you? What are you taking away from your child by doing this? Their room is their space to learn to organise as they wish and to learn the consequences of disorganisation (a far better lesson than any amount of shouting). You could have a monthly ‘bedroom tidy’, after which one child gets to be the bedroom inspector; inspecting the tidiness of the other’s rooms and adding a bit of fun to the task. My kids, like me were all inherently messy, but now as young adults, organise their own lives incredibly well – presumably because I didn’t do it for them. Don‘t interfere with the state of their rooms and they will learn to self-organise.
If they want a treat in a shop or cafe but don’t want to go up to ask for it don’t offer to speak for a child that is perfectly capable of saying what he needs to say, because you feel sorry for his shyness. If the thing he is asking for is a treat, he absolutely must learn to go up and ask for it himself. Your duty is to provide for his needs, (for now), if you want him ever to be capable of securing his own resources you should start him on securing, at least, his own treats. I used to do this with the caveat “remember adults like it if you say please” (giving them a tool they could use to make their interaction more agreeable). In life, adults who sit passively and don’t take risks to obtain growth don’t grow, this behaviour can be allayed now with the parenting tool “Shy kids get no sweets”. �
Allow them to take risks. If you don’t let them take small risks by overusing phrases like “Don‘t go in the water you’ll drown” or “Don’t climb the tree you will break your neck” then your child will be less able to judge risk for himself instead needing to seek reassurance in you. Very young children are actually more physically capable than we realise but our fear culture stops us letting them demonstrate this. This fear is spread by media reporting of accidents and kidnappings making us think such incidents are more common than they are when in fact the media could just as easily report “Thousands of Children Played Out Safely Today”. We are often awed by the amazing abilities of tribal children to do meaningful work, climb and wild swim even catching fish as they swim; yet our own children have the same physiology but we don’t let them paddle. Evolutionary biology studies undertaken with apes have shown a tendency, in times and places of plenty, to ‘baby’ our children longer. If times got tough again we‘d have to send them back up chimneys or down mines, our safe world has meant we now don’t NEED to see the capabilities of children NOT that they are not capable. Don’t impose adult level fears on your child’s potential to be physically capable. They live in a world of discovery, each step; each branch; each jump; each splash teaching them about their body’s own weight, balance or stretchiness. Allow them this learning experience without instilling your own fears, which are based on what? Statistical probability? Or negative assumption? Be honest are you holding your child back?