Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Give It Time: A Nudge Is More Effective Than a Push When Guiding Kids toward Maturity

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Give It Time: A Nudge Is More Effective Than a Push When Guiding Kids toward Maturity

Article excerpt

For much of high school, Molly and Jeff's son Sean lagged in maturity. "He seemed to be thinking and acting about two years behind," Molly, a child psychologist, says. "I tried to push to get him to be more responsible, to act like other kids his age, but to no avail. By junior year, I kind of gave up--I was thinking, 'How can I send this one into the wild?'" Senior year, however, Sean surprised his parents with newfound maturity. He got himself up early to go to work on weekends, he initiated his college search, he became more thoughtful around the house. "It came in small chunks," Molly says of her son, now a freshman in college. "But by the time he left home, I was no longer afraid to send him into the wild."

Our children's maturity doesn't always correspond with the rate of growth we'd like to see. Milestones such as birthdays, the start of a new school year, or even New Year's Day can provide opportunities for parents to talk with children about goals. The clean slate of 2016 can be appealing for a child who may need a nudge.

Parents need to proceed carefully, however, because the line between nudging and pushing can be blurry, and the most authentic growth--emotional, academic, or spiritual--comes from within the child rather than from external forces. Parents can guide and elicit growth, but we cannot force it.

Wanted: Patience in large quantities

Often the area in which a child most needs to improve is tied to another area where they are strong. An intense child may have an issue with sportsmanship, but the intensity also drives exceptional athletic ability. A bookish child may be shy but excels academically because of all the reading. Parents best serve their children when they look at the strength that is the flip side of a weakness, understanding that progress is to be measured over years, not in weeks or months.

Denise, mother of three, says her oldest, Catherine, is a strong student and a good athlete. "Because of these strengths, she has little experience with failure. When she does fail, she struggles with what to do about it; she becomes hesitant to take risks in something she feels she's failed in before," Denise says. Denise and her husband Arthur looked at their own history; they recognized that Denise is often a risk-taker and Arthur is sometimes risk averse. "Our support has been somewhere between Arthur's wish to constantly say, 'Are you going to be all right?' and my wish to repeat non-stop, 'Oh, you'll be fine.'" Denise reports that this approach has worked through the years. Catherine, now a freshman in high school, has loosened the bonds of perfection.

Sometimes, growth is needed around family relationships. A child might be struggling at home with those who are closest to him or her. When Marian and Joe were expecting their sixth child, they encountered a great deal of resentment from Emily, their oldest, an eighth grader. "She was extremely upset. Mortified might be more accurate. Her embarrassment stemmed from the fact her friends knew that her mom and dad had sex," Marian says.

Emily simmered with anger throughout her mother's pregnancy; despite her attitude, Marian and Joe named her as their newborn son's godmother. They waited it out; Emily's anger slowly dissipated and was replaced by love. "Now, Michael adores Emily, and she adores him. We can laugh now about her initial reaction to our news." Joe and Marian's decision to choose Emily as godmother, even at a moment when she arguably wasn't living up to the honor, showed a trust in their daughter that eventually led to healing in the relationship. …

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