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6 Situations to Let the Kids Handle on Their Own

Photograph by Twenty20

I want to give my kids the world. Don't we all? I want them to have the best of everything and everything I didn't have when I was growing up. I want them to explore their interests and feel like they can do anything they want to do in this life. I want to raise them to be happy, well-adjusted, productive adults who give back to a world that has so much to give them.

But in order to raise wonderful human beings, sometimes I have to step back and let them spread their wings and experience life on their own terms—which often means falling on their faces and dealing with the consequences of their choices. Here are a few instances where I've found it's OK to let my kids handle life on their own:

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1. Disagreements with siblings

If your kids are anything like mine, things can escalate from zero to 60 in the amount of time it takes to demolish a LEGO creation. It's OK to let them sort it out their way. They love each other (and you know it, even if it doesn't look like it at the moment) and just as quickly as things escalated, they can de-escalate. I've seen my two boys go from "hating" each other to rolling on the floor laughing together in the span of 15 minutes. Intervening in their disagreements only delays the resolution. Let them resolve it themselves and give them the tools to do so by modeling mature conflict resolution.

It's a hard, hard thing to stand back and bite my tongue when I know I could easily (and quickly) "fix" whatever situation my kids find themselves dealing with.

2. Playground tussles

Get enough kids on a playground and eventually there is bound to be an argument. As tempting as it is to rush in and mediate before angry words turn to punches, give your child a chance to deal with the conflict. He might surprise you with his wordy eloquence—or simply his ability to walk away from a fight. But it's important to draw the line at physical aggression. Let your child know you expect him to deal with arguments with words only and that if he finds himself in the midst of a physical altercation, it is OK to walk away and find an adult.

3. Forgotten items for school

Whether it's the homework that was left on the kitchen counter that will result in a zero on the assignment, or the hat and gloves that you told her three times to put in her backpack that will mean she can't go outside during recess, don't swoop in to save the day and make (yet another) trip to the school to deliver a forgotten item. Yes, there will be consequences. That's the point. Out of those consequences will come a new sense of responsibility (in time!).

4. Conflicts with the other parent

Under most circumstances, it's best to let your partner and child sort out their own issues without interference from you. Recognize that resolving disagreements is not only a healthy part of their relationship, but also builds a stronger bond between them. And if you feel you need to intervene or offer a different perspective, make sure you don't undermine your partner in front of your child.

5. Relationships with other people

One of the hardest things for me to do is to recognize my children are no longer helpless infants but autonomous creatures with the ability to make some of their own choices. The temptation to mediate, protect, navigate (and yes, control) their world often extends to their relationships with other people—siblings, friends, teachers and even my husband. But I know that every person they encounter in their life has something to offer them that I cannot. Let your children develop appropriate relationships without too much interference from you. Facilitate (and moderate, where necessary) the interactions, but step back and let your child have a life outside of you.

6. The thing that they knew they shouldn't have done, but did anyway

You told him not to leave his truck outside or it would rust. He did and it did. You told her to wait until her project had dried before she picked it up, but she didn't wait and now it's in pieces on the floor. Whatever advice you've given that's been ignored, let it go. This is how they learn. You don't need to say, "I told you so"—they already know they should've listened to you. Let them deal with their emotions, which can include anger toward you for not being more forceful in your advice, and make it clear that while you're sympathetic, the consequence is of their own making. And then offer to help them find their own solution.

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I'll be honest, it's a hard, hard thing to stand back and bite my tongue when I know I could easily (and quickly) "fix" whatever situation my kids find themselves dealing with. But there are times when letting them handle their own problems turns out to be a teachable moment for both parent and child. Sometimes in the midst of the chaos I get a glimpse of the wonderful human beings they're becoming and I know we're all on the right track.

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