Hands Off, Yet Supportive

Okay. Today I’m trying to be hands off, yet supportive with my kids. It’s easier with one than the other and that has to do with how much confidence I have in their competence. And that is my fault.

Backing up, I went to an incredible talk by Jessica Lahey, the amazing author of The Gift of Failure: how the best parents learn to let go so their children can succeed. And I came home inspired.

If you have not read it and you have kids you should definitely read this book. I came away from reading the book and from listening to Jessica speak energized and ready to face how I am rescuing my children from failure. (She is a dynamic speaker so if you have the chance to see her in person do it. Personally, I’m waiting for her TED Talk. Actually, here is the next best thing.)

It dawned on me that, even though I am a parenting consultant, author, and educator, I have totally been rescuing my kids from failure in some crucial areas of their lives.

I don’t take their homework to them. Or their lunch if they forgot it. They can deal with the consequences – which are pretty low-stakes consequences in 3rd and 6th grade. I also don’t wash their clothes or do their chores if they forget. They can wear (only slightly) dirty pants and the chores can (almost always) wait.

But I do constantly remind them of deadlines and other “crucial” things.

“Do you have your lunch?” (Which I, until last month, packed for them.)

“Did you brush your teeth, comb your hair, wash your face?”

“Do you have your homework?”

“Is everything you need in your backpack?”

“Take your coat!”

Now, it would be one thing if I was only saying this once. But it’s not just once. It’s constantly and throughout the morning. And even if I decide that this time I am NOT reminding them of anything! I find myself giving hints. “It’s 7:45!” (Implying that he’s got 5 minutes until he has to go.) “Do you have pants in your drawer?” (Hinting that if he doesn’t that he needs to do something about it.)

Well, not today. Today I am pulling off the training wheels.

No reminding. No hints. No sneaky implying.

This feels easier with my younger than my older. Partially because my younger is in 3rd grade and forgetting his homework at this age feels very low-stakes, and partially because he is a child who has always remembered the rules of the house and stuck with them. Does he make mistakes? Sure he does. In fact, he forgot his binder and homework today on the table because he was too into reading his new book.

But there is something about him and his personality that makes me feel more confident that he will (a) learn from failure and (b) he will bounce back.

My older child is a different story. He takes failure much more personally than his brother. In the trade we call that he is in the Fixed Mindset house. And we are working on getting him up the walkway to the Growth Mindset house. in middle school, which feels much more high-stakes in some way. He’s getting letter grades. He has multiple homework assignments that go to multiple teachers to juggle. And he has very little frontal lobe ability, right now.

See, the pre-frontal cortex, which controls things like executive function, organization, cause and effect, and personality, isn’t fully connected yet. It’s like kids’ brains have a dirt road connection to the pre-frontal cortex and are slooooowly upgrading to a super-highway.

The most frustrating thing about this is that the pre-frontal cortex can click on and off at a moment’s notice. One minute he is on top of his stuff. The next he is wandering around the house with one sock on and a shoe on his sock-less foot. And you never know when the cortex is on. There isn’t a light or a flag that signals “all systems go!” I just have to watch what happens and hope it isn’t a train wreck.

Like today. I have no idea what is going to happen as I see the clock ticking towards 7:50am – the latest he can leave and not be late for school. The closer the second hand gets to the 50 the more I can feel myself wanting to say something. Anything! He’s going to be late! It’s going to be a disaster! He’s not paying attention!!! There is no clock in the room where he is sitting!! Maybe I need to buy one??? GAAAHHHH!

And now it’s 7:50am. And I am not saying anything. I’m sitting here sipping my coffee and watching the clock tick on to 7:51. His lunch (that he packed) is on the counter. He has no water bottle inside it.

Then, suddenly, he is up and walking into the kitchen where he can see a clock and realizes it’s time to go. He goes to his backpack, checks it, comes back for his lunch (no water bottle), actually grabs his rain coat, and then zips his backpack up and heads out the door. It’s 7:54am.

It’s like a miracle has occurred. The amount of relief I feel is enormous. He actually did it. By himself. And there was no yelling or rushing or pushing and we were able to hug and I could say, “Have fun!” and mean it.



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