What you need to know before you say "yes"

Your twelve year old wants to walk to a nearby convenience store with a friend. Your sitter cancelled and you're debating whether or not to leave your ten year old in charge so that you can keep your appointment. Your six year old wants to play in the front yard by himself.

Every day we're faced with making tough decisions like these. Somehow we must correctly gauge when to give our children new privileges and responsibilities. When should we say yes? When should we say no?

Sometimes we make mistakes. We've all been in situations when our expectations have been too high and the results were frustrating. Expecting too much too soon has negative consequences. At the very least, it frustrates you and your child. At its worst, it places your child in jeopardy.

The mother of a four-year-old boy, busy with a household project and tired of her child's whining and pleading, let him walk alone to a neighbor's house to play. She never saw him again. A nine year old was placed in charge of his infant sister when his mother's childcare fell through. While his mother was out he gave the baby a bath and accidentally drowned her.

These true tragedies remind us that matching your expectations to your child's abilities -- instead of your needs -- is crucial. We must protect children from situations for which they are unprepared. Often, when children fail, it's because we failed to understand that they didn't have the skills or information to succeed.

In my seminars I ask parents how they would teach a child to swim. I say, "Would you simply describe the physical motions for staying afloat to the child and then tell her to get in the pool and start swimming? Or, would you teach her water safety and provide swimming lessons?"


Parents tell me common sense dictates the second answer. Is it just common sense? Or, is it understanding how kids learn and remember to use new skills and information?

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