I wholeheartedly believe in sometimes taking the position of 'benign neglect' with your kids! On numerous occasions one of my kids have said 'Mom will you help me with this...' or Mom, I really need your help...' I tell them 'OK, just a sec' (they've learned we're not talking a literal second here!). I can tell by their tone of voice I don't need to feel a need to drop everything and rush to their assistance. If I do feel the need, I resist the urge! depending on the circumstance. Most of the time I am rewarded with 'oh, never mind, I got it'. They are rewarded also. They feel empowered because of their persistence and creativity.
This philosophy does not fly in the face of what I have written elsewhere in these pages about attachment parenting and about connected children. It is possible exactly because I have raised connected children with my approach to attachment parenting. Because I am in tune with my kids, I know when they really need me and when they are only stymied by a temporary hiccup in whatever they are engaged.
This goes for preparing meals for themselves. About the age of six or so, they are perfectly capable of getting out the cereal, milk, and a banana for breakfast or peanut butter, bread, and jelly for lunch. Because we have prepared many meals together, the kitchen is not a foreign country.
They have had a great deal of 'hands-on' experience. If they have been hungry and have been told that a meal will be prepared at a time they don't think will be soon enough, they take the initiative to alleviate their 'starvation'!
If my daughter has a yen for chocolate chip cookies and knows that Mom won't be baking these any time soon, she will tell me she'd like to employ herself in this way, not in those words, of course! If I know we have all the ingredients on hand, you can bet I'll say 'yes!'
This is good for boys! Even in our supposedly more 'enlightened' times, it still seems more likely that boys will not be expected to fend for themselves in the kitchen. My teenage kids have a friend who has never been allowed to do anything in the kitchen other to pour himself a glass of milk to drink. I wonder what the heck is he going to do when he is off on his own? I know he'll figure it out, but he could have had a crack at the learning curve when he was younger and when it was possibly not so steep. Both of my sons are very competent 'chefs'.
This is good for my youngest son's sweet tooth ~ he knows how to assuage a craving if he needs to! Recently, he tried his hand at making flan and, lucky for us, was very happy to share!
What benign neglect instills in children is initiative, self-motivation, and creativity. When I don't immediately jump to take action when I hear, 'Mom, I can't reach the peanut butter on the upper shelf', leads to pulling over a chair, climbing up, and being able to grasp the jar. 'Mom, will you hang this picture for me?' leads to going and getting the hammer, picture hanger, and step ladder. At this point, depending on their age, it might actually be time to step in and assist. But because of my commitment to 'attachment parenting', I can usually feel comfortable with knowing what their abilities are and making this decision will be obvious.
And what I am talking about here has nothing to do with negligence, inattention, or disregard for their genuine needs. Rather this stance is in support of their real need for self-actualization. I believe the 'helicopter-parenting style' does kids a disservice. The children raised by parents who constantly 'hover' are potentially being set up for a lifetime of needing someone to always rescue them, of being insecure, and of doubting their abilities to creatively stand on their own two feet.
Lovingly practicing this way of parenting applies to rearing children of all ages. When the teen years are reached, I still hear 'Mom, can you help...?'
Recently, I was absorbed in tackling a massive pile of office work, and my teenage son's request for help on schoolwork penetrated my single-mindedness. I wanted a few more minutes to finish with what I was attending to, so I said, 'just a sec'. Within a minute or two, he declared, 'Oh, I got it!', allowing me to continue uninterrupted. Of course, I was willing to assist, but you know how it is when you break momentum...then, when you get back to it, you're saying, 'now where was I?'
Benign neglect requires a bunch of easy-goingness on my part. The kitchen counter may still be covered with crumbs and jelly after that PB&J is long gone. When my child is done, they might need to be reminded to put the hammer and stepladder away. Also, having the kid-appropriate tools available is an advantage. (Although, correct instruction with oversight early on has prepared my kids to use a lot of power tools!)
But as time goes on, you learn to trust the process. They acquire the skills and the wherewithal that will capably take them a long way in life.
I am sure there are other suggestions to add to this list. Please share your stories and experiences with allowing your kids to discover how capable they are here.
Visit here for a discussion on Conscious Parenting and see how it fits in with being a parent who now and then lovingly and consciously practices 'benign neglect'.
Site updated January 20, 2021
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