A friend who wants to change jobs asked me to teach her how to use Microsoft Word. I considered all that she needs to know, from creating a document to using tables and lists. . .and I decided the best thing I can teach her is how to use the Help Button. When she can’t remember how to insert a picture, she can use the Help Button to find the instructions–because the reality is that I won’t always be available.
Students come to me and tell me what’s wrong: “My pencil broke.” Though they obviously expect me to fix it for them, I respond, “You can complain about the problem or seek a solution.” And then I wait. Eventually, and sometimes with prompting, they figure out that they need to borrow or sharpen a pencil. Parents of middle schoolers should do the same–teach their children to solve their own problems. This begins with not jumping in to provide an immediate solution but asking instead, “What are you going to do about that?”
One of the most important skills parents can teach their children is how to think and speak for themselves. By age 11, middle schoolers should order their own food in restaurants, tell the hair stylist how they want their hair cut, and describe to the doctor what the pain feels like. When they’re unhappy with a grade, they should be the ones to talk to their teachers. If they can’t find something, they should stop and consider where it might be instead of being told by a parent where to find it. If they’re trying to use something new, they should be the ones to read the directions.
Independence is an important skill learned only by experience. The next time your middle schooler asks for your help, don’t answer right away. Instead, reply with a comment such as, “Hmm. . .sounds like a problem. How do you plan to solve it?”
It’s like pointing to the Help Button.