3 Ways to Raise Adults in Training

From across the room, while focused on my laptop, I overheard my wife reading to our kids. She was knee-deep in the day’s homeschool book, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1939 classic, By The Shores of Silver Lake. Chapter six tells the story of one character, Lizzie, getting married at age 13. I chuckled to myself as I watched my daughters’ eyes widen. “That’s not far away,” I said, interrupting the history lesson. “Can you imagine being married a year from now?” My middle schooler feverishly shook her head, looking nervously at her mother.

The book is based in the late 1800s. People married much younger then, and to be clear, I am definitely not pushing for my preteen to wed anytime soon. But I do think 21st-century parents delay adulthood by treating their children like Peter Pan. He didn’t grow up, but our kids should, and much sooner than we ask them to. Learning how to raise an adult should be our top parenting goal. It starts by treating the kids in our homes as “adults in training” rather than as helpless tenants or tall toddlers. Here are 3 ways to make sure you are raising adults in training.

1. Gradually back off.

When kids are young, they need parents to make all their decisions. Otherwise, they’d never wear underwear, eat cake for every meal, and play with frisbees in traffic. But as they get older, they should be making more decisions.

So, let them. Gradually back off. Let them try (and maybe fail) to make lunches, save money, or drive the family car. Our goal should be to prep our kids to “leave the nest” someday. Well, birds can’t fly without feathers. Think of every decision you let kids make on their own, even if the results aren’t perfect, as earning a feather.

2. Communicate clearly.

Clarity limits confusion. It can be hard to drive in the fog or read without glasses. It’s also tough for kids to understand what you want for them when you don’t explain yourself clearly. We want our kids to achieve excellence. So, encourage your children to set a standard of excellence and take responsibility in their pursuit.

That said, don’t heap pressure on them to perform. We want to build them up and support them as they chase down goals. Challenge them to combine talent with maximum effort. This will develop a child into an adult in training, capable of becoming more accountable, self-disciplined, and aspirational.

If you want your kids to grow, you’ve got to let go.

3. Encourage self-sufficiency.

We must stop doing things for our kids that they are perfectly capable of doing on their own. It may save time, but it doesn’t help kids become adults. Stop dressing them, even if their clothes don’t match. Stop doing their school projects, even if it’s due tomorrow morning and they haven’t started yet.

Ideally, you won’t be standing by ready to cut their meat when they turn 22. Give them the keys and make them drive the car. Make them plan out their school schedule. If you want your kids to grow, you’ve got to let go. That’s how to raise an adult.

Sound off: What are some traits all children must develop as they mature?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are some ways you think I baby you and some ways you think I challenge you?”