Monday, October 28, 2013

To Jump or Not to Jump?

We all know how tough it can be to see our kids facing a challenging choice or situation -- how often is our first reaction to jump in and try to manage or fix things for them so they don’t have to feel bad or struggle? Of course there are times for us to share our experience and 'great wisdom' with our kids, but generally that strategy is helpful only when they are open and asking for it!

It’s natural to want to tell them what to do, and we’ve all done it. But what really happens when we jump in and try to force our advice and opinion in order to fix or prevent a situation for them? 

Typically, kids of any age will give us one of these responses:
- Resistance to our advice
- Frustration that we don’t really get it
- Shutting down totally and not listening to what we’re trying to say
- Deciding to never share a challenging situation with us again

There are also some kids who can become addicted to our help, always looking to us for an answer to their problems. They can eventually wind up with limited skills for finding their own solution because too often we’ve done it for them! It becomes a habit of letting us step in to fix everything …

The truth is that none of us gets lasting value when someone else fixes (or tries to fix) a problem or situation for us. We can listen to advice and stories that come from someone’s experiences, but the answers that really work best and empower our life more must come from our own creative problem-solving brain. As parents, we have an opportunity to help build empowered decision-making skills with our kids. 

I want to share an example of something that happened with my own daughter when she was 4 years old – on my part, I tried to keep it simple:

She had climbed up and was standing on a piece of workout equipment about 4½ feet off the ground. As she looked at me and then at the couch, I could tell she was planning on jumping off and onto the couch. After quickly assessing the risk of her getting hurt (I figured that if she fell, she might hurt herself but most likely not very seriously), I knew that this was one of those teachable moments. I stayed very calm and asked “what could happen if you jump?” 

She didn’t say anything, but looked at me and back at the couch, back at me and at the couch, and I just waited. I stayed curious about what her choice was going to be and wanted to let her decide, knowing that if she did fall she wouldn’t get really hurt. I was honestly not attached to a particular outcome, and stayed open and quiet.

I knew that if she decided to jump and ended up falling, I would not judge her, yell at her, or say any kind of "I told you so." 
I would simply hold and console her if she hurt herself. I truly felt that I wouldn't have to say much of anything, and could trust that she would have her experience and learn what she needed to learn in that moment. So I quietly observed, and was interested -- what's she going to do?

She didn't jump; she chose to get down on her own … it was fully her decision, and I just held space for her to make up her own mind. And today, after going through many of these experiences over the past few years, I am convinced that my commitment to remaining calm, being curious, and asking the right questions has been the biggest reason that my daughter has the ability (and willingness) to make empowered choices. 

Helping kids make decisions in this way intrinsically builds their self-responsibility and self-reliance; they learn to trust their own guidance instead of needing to be told what to do. So as parents, what can we do for our kids to help them develop their own problem-solving capability? We get an opportunity to help them every time they are struggling, and instead of giving advice, we can learn to ask empowering questions! 

Through your asking, they often will find empowerment on their own, which is the goal.  If they react and get defensive, then go back to listening with curiosity and no judgment, and reflecting back what you're hearing in your own words. 

These are just examples and there is no black or white. Use your intuition to ask questions that might lead your child to their highest choice (without being attached to a specific outcome). You can use this list of questions as a guide to empowering older kids to make their own decisions …

What is it you are wanting? 
What do you think you need right now?
How can I best support you?
What is really important to you right now?
How did you feel when you made that choice? 
If you did make that choice, what do you think would happen? 
What did you learn from this?
How could you do it differently next time?
When you think that, how is it making you feel?
How can you take responsibility for your choice?
What is new and different now?
How do you think this choice will affect you? 

As parents, we have to be willing to ask ourselves … what about me? Can I use these questions when I am faced with a decision? Am I taking responsibility for my own thoughts and actions?  There is no question that the most effective way to influence and guide is to model.  We are the example they will look to for the skills and ways of being we are trying to teach. 

Until next time, Be Empowered!