“Mom… where did you put my shin guards?”
“Dad… I can’t find my cell phone charger!”
“Maaahhhmmm… There aren’t any scissors in here!”
When your children need something, do they call you instead of looking for whatever they need?
Parents everywhere spend hundreds of minutes each week looking for missing shoes, backpacks, math worksheets and cell phone chargers. Over the years, they’ve become “The Finder of Lost Things.” This job can cause irritation, frustration and resentment. It can interrupt work, dinner, or even a shower. If this happens in your home, you can learn a simple strategy to fix it.
First, you must ask yourself something (this is the tricky part). Does part of you enjoy solving “The Mystery of the Missing Shoe”? Does part of you relish being the one who saves the day? It’s perfectly OKAY if you do. I get it. Just realize that you’ve trained the people in your home well. They’re smart. They now know that if they want something, the simplest and most efficient way to find it is to ask you.
Even if it wasn’t annoying or disruptive to your life, ask yourself, is this practice good for your child? Will they grow up expecting a magical fairy always to know where to find their things? Maybe there’s a better way, not just for you but for your child as well. This Finder role carries two significant negative consequences. It is not only annoying to you as a parent, but it’s also not developmentally healthy for your child.
Children must learn how to solve their problems and challenges. Not only does this build resourcefulness and resilience, but it fosters self-confidence as well. Every child is different. Some children push away parental help and naturally want to do it their way. Other children will lean heavily on mom or dad well into their teens and beyond.
When parents proactively and purposefully pull back on how much they help, they allow more opportunities for their children to develop the self-awareness, self-motivation and self-esteem necessary years later when it’s time to launch from the childhood nest.
So, if you’ve created a situation where you’re spending much of your time getting interrupted to find everything, there is a solution. I promise it’s possible. You can quickly learn how to resign from your post as Finder of All Lost Things. You can teach your child how to become more self-reliant. And you can create more free time and fewer annoying interruptions for yourself in the meantime.
Child/Teenager: “Mom/Dad, do you know where my blue swim shorts are?”
If you’d typically stop whatever you’re doing and find the swim shorts yourself, tell them where they are.
“I think they’re in the basket next to the dryer.”
If you’d typically tell your child where to find the swim shorts, give them three places to look.
“Try looking in the dryer, the backpack by the front door, and the back of the minivan.”
If you’d typically tell your child a few places to look, ask them where they’ve already looked.
“Where have you already looked?”
If you’d typically ask, “Where have you already looked?” try responding with, “Hmmm, I don’t know where they are.”
If this last step feels too uncomfortable, you can ask a clarifying question instead. For instance, “Is it an emergency that you find the swim shorts right now?”
A Side Note on Partners: If your partner has also learned that the most efficient way to find something is to ask you, I recommend responding with a simple question. For instance, “Do you need me to stop what I’m doing and find it for you now?” We often assume that’s what they mean. Then, we feel annoyed. Maybe resentful even. However, it’s usually not what they mean at all. Instead of assuming, clarify.
These four steps will teach your family that asking you for something is no longer the most efficient way of finding it.
Give your child the gift of independence and self-confidence by teaching them how to help themselves more often. You will get back more time in your days, reduce frustration and minimize the potential for resentment and overwhelm. But first, you must take responsibility for creating this situation in the first place. You were just too dang good at your job!
Amber Trueblood, MBA, is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), best-selling author, speaker, and mother of four sons. She has over 25 years of experience in mental health, and co-founded The M.E.C.A. Project to help teens and young adults thrive Mentally and Emotionally through Conscious Awareness.
For more parenting communication strategies, see The Unflustered Mom.
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