Let's get real about parent/child expectations

  • Article by: Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2013 - 2:33 PM

Putting an end to Mom-will-do-it expectations

Your second-grade daughter expects you to pack her homework, grab her lunch, carry her backpack, and just shrugs when you threaten to stop. Should you send her to school without her things?

Parent advice (from our panel of staff contributors):

• As a mom whose daughter used to drop her backpack at Mom’s feet at school pickup, I can attest that there is hope. After not taking the hint for a few days, and a few silent standoffs as to whether I or she would walk back to pick it up before getting in the car, she stopped dropping it. We still laugh about my husband’s niece who, when she was 5, shouted for help from the bathroom from her uncle, who told her, “You’re 5, you can wipe yourself!” She replied, “I’ll wipe when I’m 6!” We’ve taken some cues from that: A birthday is a good time to empower a child with new responsibilities (making her bed, feeding the dog), and to make it a compliment to her growing maturity.

• The downside of cutting her off is that, while it’ll make you feel better, it’s at her expense. She’ll be embarrassed, hungry and resentful, and rightfully so. Yeah, put in the position, she’ll manage to stuff everything in her backpack, but you’re not teaching her anything of value. Bring down the temperature by helping her become self-sufficient, but backing it up with a deadline. Instead of the line-in-the-sand approach, tell her the problem in a calm way, that taking on these responsibilities is just part of growing up, then practice a routine with her for a few days, showing her what you want her to do and how to do it. Say it starts for real on Monday. It’s important not to get worked up about it if she makes mistakes. Showing your anger or disappointment in her failure to do these things tells her that it’s your problem, too, but it isn’t.

Expert advice:

There’s a way to alter this routine that removes the tension and reminds your child that a successful school day is actually her responsibility — not her parents’.

“The daughter expects her mom to do these things because her mom has given her the impression that they’re her mom’s job,” says clinical psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler, author of “I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You! A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict.” “If the mother knows this little girl is capable of putting her homework in the backpack and carrying the backpack, then she needs to be comfortable expecting her daughter to do that.”

Resenting the dynamic and threatening to send her to school empty-handed just turns each morning into a power play — one that your daughter is clearly winning if she’s shrugging off the threats. A better approach, she says, is to prepare the lunch, set it somewhere prominent, and then go about getting yourself ready.

“As you’re ready to go out the door, ask in a cheerful voice, ‘Do you have everything you need today?’ ”

If she doesn’t, remind her to grab it. If she refuses, continue to walk out. No arguing, threats, cajoling. “If she doesn’t have her homework, she’ll experience the consequences. If she doesn’t have her lunch, she’s not going to starve. These are very low-risk consequences at this age.”

But the habits that are forming are important ones to break. “You need to enlist your child to think for herself,” Cohen-Sandler says. “Make this her problem instead of your problem.”

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