It’s a Jungle Out There
When my children were little it was my job to take care of them. Now that they’re older (10, 11, and 13), it’s my job to teach them to take care of themselves.
After the first day of Middle School, Jasmine couldn’t find her bus. I received her frantic call asking me to pick her up. Unfortunately, I was visiting my father in the hospital. Getting to her before the school closed would be impossible. Everything had been planned so that I would be home before the school bus brought her to the stop. So much for plans.
Panic sets in. Buses were already pulling out of the school yard. “Calm down and ask for help in the office”, I instructed. After several calls back and forth, she informed me that had they located her bus and were able to radio the driver to come back for her. Whew! What a relief. But, this would not be the only busing complication.
Buses are hot and crowded. Kids are rambunctious … stuff happens. On a ride home from school, kids from an adjacent bus threw open ketchup packets through the windows of Jasmine’s bus. With great accuracy, or just blind luck, the ketchup gave Jasmine red highlights in her hair like she never dreamed possible. Trust me, if you want highlights, don’t us ketchup. It was a sticky, smelly ride home.
My first reaction: ” Poor baby! I ‘ll never send her on the bus again!” Luckily, I came to my senses. I convinced her that things would get better and we had a heart to heart talk about responsibility. “Your responsibility is to get to know other kids on the bus so you can ask for information instead of being stuck like a deer in headlights”. I also explained that “my responsibility is to call the school board about the unacceptable conditions” (buses so over crowded that some kids have to stand up during the ride is simply unsafe). However, I was not going to remove her from the busing system. At least not without a valiant effort to fix the situation.
Cruel and unusual punishment? I don’t think so. You don’t suddenly wake up at the magical age of 18 with all the leadership qualities, survival skills, and responsibility necessary to conquer the next stages of life. The process begins at birth and continues through a lifetime of experiences. While the general idea is to go to good schools, get a good education, and lead a successful life, fortunes are constantly changing. It’s necessary to be able to survive in a variety of circumstances.
As parents we instruct, set examples, and give support. We can’t control the whole world for our children, but we can teach them how to control their own actions and reactions.
The busing situation has been solved and my daughter still rides the bus. While it is not her favorite activity, she has adjusted and handles it like a pro.
Growing up in an extremely protective home, I was never allowed to ride the school bus. While I am grateful for everything my parents did for me, living on my own has taught me that exposure is essential. Life is a lot different once you step out of the ivory tower. If you are never allowed “outside”, that can put you at a serious disadvantage later in life.
Here are a few strategies that I have found usefull in helping my children rise to challenges of the world around them. They can easily be tailored for age and maturity level appropriateness.
Six Tips for Fostering Independence
Don’t forget the chores. We shouldn’t overburden our kids with household duties, but we shouldn’t allow them to be domestically challenged either. College is not the time to discover how to operate a washing machine for the first time. I’m talking boys and girls here. There’s nothing wrong with a little self sufficiency.
Make chores manageable. For example, with three kids, I give each one a level of the dishwasher to empty. They put away things as allowed by their height and maturity. It takes each kid less than 5 minutes instead of one child being stuck with a 15 minute job. We empty the dishwasher as soon after a cycle as possible so that each person can put their dishes in the machine immediately after eating. This way no one is stuck dealing with a sink full of dirty dishes.
Develop food sense. Becoming a gourmet chef is not the goal here, but being able to prepare a few simple, healthy meals can go a long way. Provide healthy ingredients and help them help themselves. Even a ten year old can make a sandwich.
Build business sense. When in a store or restaurant, hand your child the money or credit card and allow them to pay the bill. This is an excellent way to provide transaction experience.
Let them make it happen. When planning a purchase or participation in a sport or activity, allow your children to help with the groundwork. Have them do the Google, Yellow Pages, or newspaper search while you observe. Let them call and make that Karate class appointment. It shows you how they approach tasks and allows you to help them with their research and interpersonal skills.
Prioritize. Community service, extra curricular activities and sports are all integral parts of creating a well rounded student; however, they don’t have to do all of these activities in a single semester. Prioritize. Get the kids involved in the planning. It’s an integral skill that will serve them well. A note on scheduling: Remember, don’t spread yourself too thin with your children’s activities. Having a wiped out parent isn’t doing them any favors.
Although it’s our job to shield our children from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as Romeo said in his famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, we have to provide them with the opportunity and tools to face the world.