How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

by Julie Lythcott-Haims

How to Raise an Adult is a book for any parent who wants to raise a self-sufficient, independent, and responsible child. Here, author Julie Lythcott-Haims doesn’t just give you a series of parenting advice; she backs each piece of advice up with evidence from child psychologists, case studies, and research papers.

We’ve compiled a list of actions you can try out with your children, starting today, to ensure their success as future adults. So, pick one and try it out!

Summary Notes

What We’re Doing Now

“Without experiencing the rougher spots of life, our kids become exquisite, like orchids, yet are incapable, sometimes terribly incapable, of thriving in the real world on their own.”

Many parents tend to over-involve themselves in their kids’ lives. This kind of behavior usually stems from their fears, such as the fear that their child won’t succeed or that they won't be safe without their presence. They think parents know what’s best for their children, so they’re eager to protect and direct them as much as possible.

While parents' intentions are good, overparenting may cause more harm than good to their children: It prevents them from learning the skills needed to survive in the adult world when their parents are not there to watch over them.

To prepare your child for adulthood, you must give them the freedom they need to figure things out on their own. Let them explore the outside world and learn from it.

If you’re worried about your child’s safety, however, the best step you could take is to teach them street smarts. For example, teaching them how to differentiate strangers who wish to harm them from those who want to help them.

Teaching your children how to navigate the world beyond their front yard will help them become resourceful, independent adults. It will keep them from being frightened, bewildered, and confused when they are eventually forced to be on their own in the streets.

When your child is outside, you may also worry about the “bullies” they may encounter. However, what we perceive as “bullying” nowadays is just how children learn social skills. Of course, there are real bullies out there who hurt and disempower their victims, and these bullies should not be ignored. However, most children are not real “bullies.”

When we label children as bullies, especially young children, we impose labels on them that they are not developmentally capable of. Instead, we should stand back and watch our kids interact with others from a distance and allow them to explore the boundaries of social interaction themselves.

Aside from protecting children from the dangers outside, parents also tend to overprotect their children’s feelings by praising them constantly. This may lead to them developing a distorted view of what it takes to excel and believing they are entitled to praise and recognition. This type of thinking will negatively impact their work performance as adults—after all, no one praises adults for every little thing! So instead of always praising them, parents must only learn to praise and reward their children for their outstanding achievements.

Finally, as your children grow up, you may develop your own set of expectations and visions of how they “should” become or what path they “should” pursue. While there is nothing wrong with having dreams for your children, creating a path that isn't about them may make them unhappy later in life.

If you want the best for your children, you must not shape the way they dream. Instead, let them decide which university they want to attend or what they want to major in, so they would soon feel excited about their field of work. After all, seeing your children happy and fulfilled is the ultimate goal.

Actions to take

The New Way of Parenting

“Parental love is piercing, fierce and beautiful. It is hard to comprehend that we’ll be able to cope with our kids leaving home, let alone that, at times, we won’t even know where they are. Yet we gave them life. And life is to be lived.”

As parents, we want our children to grow up loving and wanting to see us while also being capable of navigating life independently. We want them to be self-sufficient, able to complete a task, achieve a goal, and deal with various situations in life. To achieve this, we need to incorporate authoritative parenting—a new healthier way of parenting that balances warmth with strictness and direction with freedom.

Authoritative parenting is a style in which parents are both demanding and responsive. Here, parents treat their children as independent rational beings capable of exploring things on their own, failing and making decisions, and learning from them. They’re also emotionally warm and strict. They set high standards, expectations, and rules for their children, but they make sure to explain the reason behind these rules.

While authoritative parents involve themselves in their children’s lives and are responsive to their emotional needs, they don’t let their children get away with things. This balance makes this parenting style the best among others.

In fact, research shows that children raised by this parenting style have greater academic achievements, suffer from fewer symptoms of depression, and exhibit fewer signs of aggression, disobedience, and other such antisocial behaviors. Being an authoritative parent will help your child commit to and fulfill adult social roles. These adult social roles are the foundation of a healthy life.

Actions to take

Give Them Unstructured Time to Play Freely

“Play is the first real developmental “work” children are supposed to do.”

Free play is essential to a child’s mental health. When children are involved in activities that are freely chosen and directed by them, they undergo healthy psychological development.

In fact, research shows that free play helps children learn, develop, and perfect new skills that build competence, master anxiety (i.e., help them build the capacity to cope with their environment), strengthen their ego, and fuel their investment in life.

When letting your child play, however, certain limitations must be considered. This includes the location and time when they’ll play, their age, capabilities, and special needs, your home and neighborhood environment, and the available time for their play. The good news is that there are ways to enhance the degree of free play, considering these limitations. Following these ways can lead to improved psychological health and personal development and can better prepare them for adulthood.

Actions to take

Teach Life Skills

“Being able to do so much for our kids is very much a function of extra money and leisure time.”

Most middle- and upper-class children grow up with their parents or other adults in their lives completing tasks for them. This does not allow them to develop life skills—after all, they’ve always had someone else do everything for them! Children who grow up like this cannot adjust well to adulthood, where they are solely responsible for completing several tasks they have no prior experience handling.

So, instead of doing everything for them, learn to set rules and expectations. This means having a list of the basic life skills your kid must acquire based on age. Here’s a simple guide to doing it:

  • Children aged 2-3 should be able to perform basic life skills such as small chores and basic grooming. This includes putting their toys away, dressing and putting their clothes in the hamper when they undress, cleaning their plates after meals, assisting in setting the table, brushing their teeth, and washing their face with assistance.
  • Children aged 4-5 should learn safety skills, such as remembering important names and numbers. This includes knowing their full name, address, and phone number and how to make an emergency call. They should also be able to perform simple chores without much assistance.
  • Children aged 6-7 should be able to perform basic cooking techniques and do unsupervised chores. These chores include mixing, stirring, and cutting with a dull knife, helping the groceries put away, straightening up the bathroom after using it, making their bed without assistance, and taking a bath unsupervised.
  • Children aged 8-9 should be able to take pride in their personal belongings. This includes being able to fold their clothes, learn simple sewing, and care for outdoor toys. They should also be able to use a broom and dustpan, help create a grocery list, take out the trash, and take care of personal hygiene without being told to do so.
  • Children aged 10-13 should be able to perform many skills independently. They should be able to stay home, make purchases, do laundry and change their bed sheets alone. They should also be able to look after their siblings, use basic tools, read labels, etc.
  • Children aged 14-18 should be able to learn more advanced skills.
    This includes performing more complicated cleaning and maintenance chores, filling a car with gas, adding air to and changing a tire, reading and understanding medicine labels and dosages, interviewing for and getting a job, preparing and cooking meals, and so on.

All the above tasks are extremely important for your child to know—without them, they will be lost in the adult world. By following the list above, you’re ensuring that your child learns age-appropriate skills necessary for leading competent adult lives.

Actions to take

Teach Them How to Think

“We don’t want our kids to be robots—mechanistically giving answers or going through motions dictated by someone else. We want them to be thinkers.”

Helping our kids develop critical thinking skills is essential for their success and survival, especially when they reach adulthood. When children can think for themselves, they are more likely to succeed in college, work, and many other areas of their lives.

To train your child to think for themselves, you must first refrain from handholding, overprotecting, and overdirecting what they must do all the time. Instead, give them the freedom to complete tasks on their own, decide for themselves, take risks, make mistakes, fail and learn from them. Moreover, you should also help your children better understand the situations they encounter. All of these skills will be instrumental in helping them lead a functioning, healthy adult life in the future.

Once the children have mastered the skills required to think for themselves, the next step is to teach them how to think about more than themselves and to speak for themselves. Allow your child to form opinions on various world events and respond to conversations with others. Remember that childhood is meant to prepare children for adulthood, so encourage them to speak up. After all, as adults, you won't be there to hold their hands through everything!

Actions to take

Prepare Them For Hard Work

Chores in childhood have been proven to be an essential contributor to a life’s success. When you give your children chores to do, you teach them about responsibility, autonomy, accountability, determination, and perseverance. They will carry these qualities with them throughout their life, and most importantly, they will apply them to their work life in the future.

Actions to take

Let Them Chart Their Own Path

“What you’re going to be and do in the world is up to you. Look to yourself for clues about what really matters to you. Give yourself permission to be and do those things.”

Many young people today feel so pressured to pursue a path chosen by their parents, even if it’s not aligned with their true interests and purpose. This may result in resentment, confusion, and unhappiness. To avoid this, you need to let your child forge their own path in life.

If you choose a career and future for your child, you run the risk of them becoming depressed and disinterested in their life. Therefore, you should help guide them toward a future, but remember that your child gets to decide what that future is.

Helping your child find their own path begins with accepting who they are. Focus on your child's strengths, talents, and passions and use them as "clues" to help them find the path they want for themselves. Once they find it, accept that the future is theirs and commit to supporting them. Remember that as a parent, you must strike a balance between telling your child what to do and letting them run wild.

Throughout your child’s journey, you may find them experiencing falls and failures. While it's tough to see them struggling, protecting your children from falls and failures will hurt them in the long run. The best you can do instead is to support them through the hard times and teach them to gain resilience when things don’t go their way. This way, they will grow into stronger and well-adjusted adults ready to face whatever life throws at them.

Actions to take

Have a Wider Mindset About Colleges

Most parents want their children to go to prestigious universities without considering whether or not they want it in the first place. This prevents their children from feeling fulfilled and satisfied throughout their college journey.

Your children will only be able to reap the benefits of college if they are in a place that is truly right for them. Therefore, you need to focus less on getting your children accepted into top schools and more on finding an environment that will allow them to thrive.

Actions to take

Listen to Them

If you want to have a healthy relationship with your child, you need to have open ears and be willing to listen to them no matter what. When you listen to your child, you become their confidante, and no matter how old they are, they will always come to you for life advice and emotional support.

Actions to take

Reclaim Yourself

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” - Carl Jung

Taking care of yourself before anything else as a parent isn’t selfish. It is, in fact, the first and most crucial step in parenting. If you aren’t hale and healthy, you won’t have the energy or the means to take care of your child. Learning how to care for and reclaim yourself, on the other hand, will make you a better parent capable of raising a healthier and happier child.

Actions to take

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