By Jen Murphy
Watching your child make what seems like a “bad” decision or a mistake that seems so easy to fix is a painful process. Why not just correct the mistake and make her do things the “right” way? Why not help him avoid something that could end up being emotionally painful or just plain inefficient? Because experience is the best teacher.
One of these experiences comes to mind when I look back at my son and his obsession with shoes. It’s a thing. He loves shoes, and for some reason, he loves expensive shoes, which we just cannot afford. Nevertheless, the kid prides himself on looking good, and shoes are the icing on the cake.
This issue came to a tipping point a couple of months ago when, as teenage boys will do, he grew a size-and-a-half overnight. His shoes were too small, and the soles were worn out. We offered to get him a new pair of shoes, and let him know what we were willing to spend on them. Of course, he didn’t like the selection. We told him that he would have to pay the difference between what we thought was fair to pay for shoes and the cost of the style he wanted. He immediately agreed.
The only problem for him was that he didn’t have enough money because he also pays for his cell phone and a few other things. So he had to wait. For a long time. This was the hardest part for me. He wore those shoes, which grew holes in the toes a couple of weeks later, for three months while he saved up his money. Three months! But he got his new shoes yesterday, and he is so proud of them.
So, what lessons were learned in this process?
Allow your child to learn through their own experience. I learned to help him by not helping. There were times during those weeks where I wanted to throw in the towel and get him the shoes, just so I didn’t have to see him walking around with worn-out shoes that were clearly too small. But that was based on what I needed, not what he needed. He needed to learn to find something that he liked and that was in his budget, and then work for his goal. Without this work, he would have put on a new pair of shoes without thinking twice.
Support your child as they learn – help them “stick to it.” Every time he whined about not having money, or things “taking too long, ” I offered again to buy him shoes I thought were reasonable. He would grumble, but then he would remember why he was working to do extra chores instead of watching TV or hanging out with friends, and he would get motivated once again. I told him I was proud of him for his hard work, and he really did take ownership of the work he was doing. He felt good about his accomplishments.
Once his new shoes were out of the box and on his feet, he beamed. I beamed, too, because for me, this wasn’t about shoes. It was about working for something you love. I reminded him of how hard he worked, and asked if it was worth it. He simply replied, “Of course! Just look at these shoes!”
Jen Murphy is a working mom with two teenagers. She has more than 20 years of experience working with at-risk youth and is a former middle school teacher. She and her family love living in northern Michigan with their chickens, goats and bees.
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