As a parent, you always want to be there for your children—whether that’s congratulating them in their victories or consoling them in their defeats. And while this is a natural tendency, this type of behavior can sometimes have unintended effects; it could even become harmful. Indeed, intervening too frequently throughout your child’s life could stifle his or her interest in trying new things or tackling new challenges.
You see, there’s a difference between raising a child and empowering that child to grow and be a successful human being.
In a general sense, raising your child involves taking care of his needs until he’s old enough to fend for himself. Empowering your child, on the other hand, is enabling him to make his own decisions; it’s the key to raising a strong and responsible adult. After all, your job isn’t simply to usher your child into adulthood, but rather to teach skills that lead to success and independence.
New experiences offer your child opportunities to practice helpful life skills and develop new interests and talents. By limiting her freedom to choose, you stifle her ability to grow. What’s more, you put yourself in an authoritarian position, which doesn’t work well as she progresses into adulthood.
Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t provide support to your kids! Without structure, children are left alone when they need words of encouragement or nudges in the right direction. Empowerment is all about striking a balance between being there for your kids, and trusting them to make good decisions independently.
Kids flourish when they can become their own person. Telling people that they’re capable of making decisions and accomplishing tasks is powerful at any age, but it’s especially powerful for kids and teens. It promotes trust and respect rather than dependency, and it strengthens children’s relationships with their parents.
Here are six ways you can empower your child:
Build up your child’s dreams. If your kid wants to be the world’s fastest person, tell him he can do it. If he wants to invent a super computer, help him find supplies. Whether your child wants to write a bestselling book, become an opera singer, or be president, encourage him to work toward those goals.
Taking healthy risks is progress for kids who are becoming empowered. It lets them experience new things without fear.
Celebrate mistakes. Most people—adults and kids alike—equate making mistakes with failure. This is a huge misconception! Making mistakes is an important step in learning. And embracing those mistakes helps your kid realize things can still work out, even if everything doesn’t go according to plan.
Mistakes are a natural part of life, and the sooner a child learns to manage the emotions that come along with them, the better off she’ll be.
Be empowered. You must take a hard look at your own sense of self-efficacy. To do so, ask yourself these questions:
How do I react to stress?
How do I communicate with others?
How do I accomplish hard tasks?
How physically active am I?
How do I react when things don’t go my way?
Am I overly critical of myself?
You’re the primary role model when it comes to establishing your kid’s sense of empowerment. She emulates whatever you do, so make sure you’re modeling the behavior you want her to learn.
Give your child autonomy. Allow your child to make small decisions by asking thought-provoking questions. Avoid phrases like: “You really need to do this” or “You shouldn’t have done that.” Instead, ask: “How much money will you need to do that?” or “How will you get there?” This allows him to come up with his own viable solutions to problems.
Once the decision has been made, don’t intervene prematurely. When children realize they’re capable of making small decisions, they internalize that and build on it.
Affirm positive behavior. Noticing when your child excels or overcomes an obstacle is an important step in empowerment. Let your words and actions communicate confidence in his abilities.
Motivate your child to follow through with difficult tasks by saying things like: “I appreciate how you worked through that tough homework. I could see you were struggling with it, but it looks like you figured it out.” Or if your teen worked through an argument with a friend, say: “I noticed you were so sincere with your friend. I know that helped your relationship.”
Avoid rescue. If you’re quick to rush in and take over a task your child is struggling with, you might be implying he’s not capable of doing it himself. Similarly, if you’re always giving advice, you’re robbing your child of the chance to resolve his own problems.
Ask questions that inspire critical thinking instead of giving answers. For example:
“Mom, I’m really having a hard time with my friend at school.”
“Yeah, it seems like you’re feeling frustrated. What are you going to do about it?”
“What do you think I should do?”
“Well, what are some of your options?”
This kind of exchange puts your child in a position of power—to look for a solution rather than dwell on the problem. While rescuing your child might temporarily alleviate suffering, it will ultimately strip him of his ability to problem-solve.
Raising your child means taking care of basic needs. Empowering, on the other hand, means handing the ability and authority to solve problems over to your kids. By intentionally empowering them, you’re giving them the confidence, skills, and problem-solving mindset to do difficult things, take on challenges, and succeed.
About Matthew Arrington
Matthew Arrington is the executive director and co-founder of Forte Strong, the world’s first failure-to-launch program for men who struggle to leave their parents’ home or find it difficult to become independent. Forte Strong uses a proprietary coaching model to help students find purpose and direction, guide parents and families in empowering their sons, and ultimately create a healthier family dynamic. Matthew currently resides in sunny St. George, Utah.