Stop Squashing Your Child’s Initiative

Author Steven Cribbs    Category Parenting     Tags

A few days ago I encountered one of those times with my kids where I found myself saying “wait just a minute; stop what you are doing; you didn’t ask permission to do that.” This is a fairly normal series of statements for parents. However, in this case, this was not the right response. There was something more important going on that I needed to pay attention to.

What was going on, you ask? Initiative. My son was taking some initiative and doing something that he knew needed to be done – something I had not told him to do. In this case, it was something that he was totally capable of doing and it was a way that he could help the family.  I am sure that my response made him feel like the egg in this picture…

Easter Series

After my initial reaction, I realized…finally…that I needed to STOP SQUASHING my son’s INITIATIVE.

I have really been challenged by Seth Godin’s book “Poke the Box”. Definitely on a personal level; but, also on a parental level. Throughout the book, Seth challenges our perspective on taking initiative and rails on the fact that we have created a culture that suppresses our desire to take initiative and do something new.

So, I have to ask myself: What would happen if I never let my children do things on their own, start something by their own initiative or try something different from what I would do? Would I just be teaching them to conform to the world around them? Would I be training a lemming that would always just follow the crowd? Would I be teaching them to always wait for someone else to tell them what to do – even when they know what they should do?

I have become very accustomed to telling my children things like “don’t do that”, “wait for me”, “stop!”, “you should have asked permission”, “you’re not old enough” and “that’s only for daddy to do”. As children are young, these are pretty standard responses. However, at some point, there has to be a change – we have to let our children grow and fly on their own.

As parents, we want our children to be successful, to step up and be responsible. We want them to know right from wrong and choose the right stuff without being told. We want them to stand up for what they believe and know is right – even when those around them do not.

How our children respond in life is highly influenced by what we do in our homes and the standards that we set. When it comes to initiative, our children will reflect the examples we set before them and the expectations that we put upon them.

Since I squashed my son’s initiative, I have been making some changes. I am now trying to follow these tips:

  1. Let your children do a few things without immediately saying “don’t do that”. Obviously this must be age appropriate; but, give them opportunities to stretch themselves a little bit.
  2. Teach your children about initiative and tell them that you are will be allowing them to take more initiative to do what they know is right for that moment.
  3. Be intentional and follow through with #1 and #2.

And one more IMPORTANT thing: Decide to be okay with the mistakes that are going to happen. Realize that things are going to get messed up from time to time. And, when these things happen, extend a little extra grace and come alongside your children to teach them the next right thing.

Question: How have you squashed initiative in your children? (You can read my story in the comments below.) What other advice would you give? Leave a comment by clicking here.

5 Comments to “Stop Squashing Your Child’s Initiative”

  • Steven Cribbs April 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    So, my story: We have a routine at dinner in which all of us take vitamins – at least when we remember to do so. The vitamins are put away in a cabinet that the kids are generally not supposed to be in. Well, my oldest son decides to go get the vitamin jar, open it up and get out vitamins for everyone.

    Before I even thought about it, I got on to him for doing something without permission. In hind site, it was actually a very thoughtful thing to do; and, a task that is perfectly suited for him to do.

    Now, that has become part of what he does in our family. Plus, he remembers to do it almost every night (a much better track record than I had).

    Seems simple enough; but, a big shift in my thinking 🙂

  • Jeff Randleman April 29, 2011 at 9:33 am

    That’s a great reminder. How old is your son?

    I’ve been in the same boat. My son (7) will often do things thast I assume are what he shouldn’t be doing, when they in fact are great things for hiim to be doing. Even if I have to undo it later, his creativity should be rewarded. Most of the time.

    For example, he loves to rearrange the living room coffee tables and end tables. While creative, it’s not always practical. It took a long time for me to learn to not stop him, and just be encouraging to him.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Steven Cribbs April 29, 2011 at 10:15 am

      The son in this story is 8. I also have a son who is 7 – who, even though close in age, is a totally different person with different needs. Man it is a constant challenge to figure out what is right or ok for each of my kids to do and to figure out when I am just being strict for my own benefit or comfort.

      It is also easy to forget that my kids are getting older – I will often keep them in the box of who they were a couple of years ago instead of letting them be who they are and who they are becoming.

      Even my two-year-old daughter is surprising my with the things she wants to do, and can do, for herself!

  • Jeff Goins April 29, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I’m not a parent yet, but I find this interesting (and helpful). It seems that children naturally have initiative and adults, sadly, have to (re) learn it.

    • Steven Cribbs April 29, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Sad, but true. It seems like the process of growing up mostly teaches us to conform and to only color within the lines.

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