The subtle assault on your child’s strength and autonomy

In many critical ways, a sense of personal strength and autonomy is essential to a happy and responsible life.  Such traits allow your child to face challenges, refuse to fold under pressure and, perhaps most importantly, to build and broaden skills over time.  These character traits also give them the power to walk away from negative influences and to eventually stand prepared for creating the life they want…on their terms.

So how are these traits under assault? 

  1. We keep making things easier…thinking this is better. Character strength is much like muscle strength.  It is built through stretching and working it out.  Most of us acknowledge this and understand it.  We see how constantly ‘doing for’ our kids makes them dependent and weak. Yet, somehow we become blind to habits we develop in everyday life.  Instead of building a parenting system that promotes strength, we create daily habits of just trying to get through the day.  And often, we end up doing more and more of the responsibilities…while our kids do less and less. 
  2. We have confused activity with responsibility. Society provides more and more activities for children and we often enroll them in sports and/or other activity four seasons a year. After all, it’s physical activity and generally healthy.

However, we do so without building commensurate levels of responsibility.  In other words, we add more activity that mom and dad take responsibility for, while children simply sit and then play.  We take care of their clothes, their gear and driving rushed to the game because they couldn’t get off the computer.  We even pay for private coaching while some kids refuse to practice on their own.  Recently, a coach was sued for releasing an adolescent boy from his team despite the fact that he was only showing up for games. 

We must get clear about the need to make certain that responsibility is built into any and all activities.  Strength of character and independence grows from these habits.  As you develop parenting systems that teach them to take responsibility for their gear and getting out the door, you will see a maturity and independence that is unmistakable.  This is opposite to the dependent and indulged child who requires mom to hound them constantly to get ready, while she is collecting their gear and calling the coach. 

The secret juice for building strength and autonomy

When working with families, I find that there is a simple formula to help keep you on track.  Never forget this and you will likely find yourself making all the right adjustments as your children age and develop:  Never work harder at your child’s success and happiness than they do!

In other words, our tendency is to get stuck in habits that we develop when our children are infants.    At that age, we are responsible for everything.  But as they move into the toddler years, we must begin to stretch and strengthen their character every day.  We let them do more and more, which means they will grow stronger.   We must ignore their whining and complaining and learn to respond to moments that sincerely require our intervention. 
Stretch and strengthen their character daily.  Let them handle their daily lives, which means that they will experience some painful consequences for poor choices.  This is how we learn.  More importantly, a child realizes that these painful moments will not crush them…and this is the key to building personal strength.  They discover that they are stronger than they thought!   This powerful lesson can only be taught with experience not with mom or dad ‘giving’ it to them. 

Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit


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