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Sheree Gallagher, Psy.D.
Michael Bridgewater, Ph.D.
Swen Helge, PhD (1975-2010)
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Summer 2011
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CULTIVATING COMPETENT ADULTS

Our society has become structured around immediate gratification and self-absorption.  In an effort to avoid some costly pitfalls secondary to our societal norms, each section of this newsletter addresses valuable lessons for parents and their children, at any age.  

In today’s world, the search for a stable identity is a major challenge of early adulthood.  It begins in childhood.   

Parents can get caught in the trap of wanting their children to have more than they had as children without realizing that receiving things that should be earned is a disservice to the child.  The child learns work ethic, confidence, and perseverance by earning privileges and toys.   

Parents can mistakenly believe it is their responsibility to make and keep their child happy.  A happy childhood is wonderful, but it does not mean a childhood without learning experiences from mistakes and disappointments.  We must experience sadness to understand happiness; loss to value what we have; and disappointment to appreciate joy.   

Parents can confuse the appropriate desire to protect their young from harm with the inappropriate wish to prevent their children, adolescents, or young adults from suffering any of life’s hardships.  Of course, we would never want our child to burn their hand on a hot stove or run into the street.  That is appropriate protection from harm.  However, it is better for a person to learn as a child how to manage misunderstandings in child-appropriate relationships and develop effective problem-solving skills than to be ill-equipped as an adolescent or adult to handle life’s hardships that are bound to happen.  

One way confidence is built is by successfully navigating a difficult situation and knowing you can handle it again, should you have to.  As a child, it would be important to have a parent walking along and encouraging the child, but also allowing the child to have an age-appropriate part in actively solving the problem.  

If a parent continually rescues the child or gives the child everything and more than what is needed or age-appropriate, the child can develop a sense of entitlement and/or dependency.  The adult child will become overwhelmed and paralyzed by frustration, unable to manage significant life decisions (college, marriage, jobs) on their own.  This places them at risk for depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse.  The child may boomerang back home and never leave, expecting mom and dad to continue to finance their lives or the lives of their children.   

If parents of young children are aware of these issues now, they can evaluate their parenting style and make necessary adjustments to better ensure their choices are ones that will prepare their child to leave the nest independently and feel confident in the decisions they make.  It will not protect them from disappointments, but they will be more prepared to handle the disappointments in an effective, responsible, and more confident manner.

PARENT TALK

Key Concepts to Consider for Confident Kids:  

1.  Children will, and should, experience some disappointments and hardships.  Help contain your child’s frustrations so he can learn to manage the frustrations and losses that are a part of everyone’s life.  If he learns to do this effectively with you by his side, he will be more likely to do this independently as an adult.  

2.  Provide a good education for your child – in school and at home.  Encourage perseverance and assist as appropriate, when the work gets hard.  Avoid the temptation to do the work for him.  Doing the work for him sends the subtle message that he is not smart enough or talented enough to do it himself.  He will develop confidence and a sense of accomplishment if he completes something that is a challenge.  

3.  Teach an appreciation for hard work.  If a child earns a privilege or toy, she will appreciate it more than if it is given for no reason.  She will learn the value of objects and become thankful for what she has if objects are not given in abundance, or immediately replaced if she is careless with them; or receives a newer model as soon as it hits the market.  Learning to earn, or work hard for what you want, teaches ambition.  

4.  Model the value of self-sufficiency and the ethic of responsibility.  Children learn more by watching than by listening.

COMMUNICATION TIP

Assertive Communication:  

Assertiveness
is something that is often misunderstood.  It is not aggression or anger. Aggressive communication sounds threatening, critical, or out of control. Being assertive means to state your needs, thoughts, or feelings in a calm and direct manner.  The opposite of assertive communication is passive communication.  Passive communication is indirect, requiring mind-reading, which none of us can perfect.  It leads to assuming, which can create misunderstandings in relationships.  Below are some examples of aggressive and passive statements and the more effective assertive alternatives.  

Aggressive:        Shut up!  
Passive:            You better quit… (with a glare).  
Assertive:          Please do not interrupt me when I am talking to someone else. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Aggressive:        Leave me alone or you’ll regret it!  
Passive:            (Going to your room without an explanation).  
Assertive:          When I am tired, I would like some time alone to rest.  After I rest,   
                       then we can talk.

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