enabling parents

How to Avoid Raising Codependent Kids

Shielding kids from consequences can have long-term consequences for parents. Take, for instance, my friend’s brother Bill. It started small when Bill was in first grade. Mom would do his chores so Bill wouldn’t get in trouble with Dad. Quickly, it moved to homework cover-ups and graduated to Mom covering when he skipped school; Dad lying to the police when he wrecked a car he didn’t have permission to drive, and increasingly large financial defaults. By the time Mom and Dad let Bill move back home after failing college (no questions asked), he felt entitled to every bailout that came his way. The bailouts just kept getting bigger, including $50,000 in a failed real estate venture.

We’re all concerned about keeping our kids safe and happy. But we raise our children to fly, not flop around the nest as the product of enabling parents. One day, we’re going to have to let go and, when we do, it’s a good idea to make sure they’re equipped and ready. If you want to avoid raising codependent kids, follow these 5 things early and often.

1. Expect more of them:

We all tend to rise to the level of expectation. A two-year-old can learn to pick up toys. A three-year-old can help to set the table. A four-year-old can take dirty clothes to the laundry room and learn how to operate the machine. The more, and the earlier, we train children to contribute, the more self-reliance will become a part of their DNA.

2. Allow (managed) natural consequences:

Typically, there is no better learning tool than to experience the consequence of behavior. A five-year-old refuses to clean up the toys in the middle of the floor? The toys visit the attic for a prescribed amount of time. A ten-year-old curses? Get a dictionary, then handwrite five acceptable words that mean the same thing, plus their complete definitions. Establish a direct line between behavior and a real world result.

3. Be consistent:

Mom and Dad need to be on the same page because learning thrives where children know what to expect. When children understand that what they do or do not do makes a consistent and measurable difference in the quality of their life, they will become more likely to accept responsibility for themselves and work to impact the outcome more favorably.

4. Be clear:

Leave no doubt as to the outcome when encouraging children to accept responsibility. Then having made ourselves clear, we need to follow through. This is why it’s important not to threaten beyond our willingness to enforce. If we say, for example, “If you do that again, I will take away your phone for a month,” but then only take it away for one day, we have created a problem.

5. Trust them:

Having made ourselves clear, we must demonstrate trust by getting out of the way. We can’t expect a child to grow if we treat them as if they are incapable of doing what we ask. When they succeed, we congratulate. If they fail, we follow through on consequences because we believe they could have done better.

Sound Off

What are some examples of natural consequences that have helped your child to grow?

Derek Maul

Derek Maul is the author of five books, a nationally recognized men’s resource, a committed encourager, and a pilgrim in progress. He divides his time between writing and traveling to speak about the fully engaged life.

  • Darrell G. Walton

    I made sure I raised my son not to be codependant. As s single dad, it wasn’t in the budget. In all things I had to run a tight ship to raise him to a man.

    The problem was his circle of friends that were being raised to be codependent that they and their 2 parent families considered me mud or too mean on how I raised my son.

    Often these same parents would flip flop in exasperation of their kids antics as to ask me, how did you get such a well mannered kid?

    None the less in my son’s eyes by the decree of those other parents my son considered me mud he wasn’t getting the materialism and the behavioral bail out that his friends often get.

    Now that my son is an adult, he has resented all what I tried to teach him including Biblical principles that others affirmed me on to him.

    He went the way of the world of his codependent friends snowballing a lot of negative debt equity and down on me as a burden to his life and existence that for my age, health, and physical disability, I still can’t bail him out as his friend’s parents still do.

    As for the present insolence and hostility I experience now, I fear the consequences ahead for me as I continue to age.

    In summary, don’t let your kids hang around with codependent kids and families. They will unstill all of what you try to raise up in your children’s lives.

    • Single Dad

      It sounds as though you’ve done the right things in bringing your son up with respect and morals, kudos to you! When our kids enter the world with all its instant gratification, over indebtedness and questionable morals we have to hope that our parenting will help them to make good decisions. And if not, they’ll know there will be consequences that they will have to work through, themselves. I say “live your life”, you did what you needed to do by putting him on the right path.

    • So sorry 🙁

  • jsdn

    The title of this article should be “How to avoid being a codependent parent”. The child is clearly the dependent in this case and the parents are co-dependent via the good feeling they get from bailing the kid out, financially. Co-dependence for children is much deeper than this and can occur even if you follow the simple advices of this article. Example: a parent falls ill and a conscientious and loving child succumbs to every beck and call from the parent. The best thing for all involved is often for the child not to be a primary caregiver. This is a classic child co-dependence issue that happens all the time to normal people who are raised well.

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