Are you raising competent or dependent Little Learners?

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Part 2 of a 3 Part Series on Basic Human Psychological Needs: Intentional Parenting


Competency is one of the core basic human psychological needs, as outlined in the study of Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT).

To be competent means: the experience of effectiveness and mastery.

Competence becomes satisfied as one capably engages in activities and experiences opportunities for using and extending skills and expertise. When frustrated, one experiences a sense of ineffectiveness or even failure and helplessness.

Deci & Ryan, 2000

The importance of encouraging competence

Every human being wants to be seen as competent in something and usually many things. We are born with a natural instinct to strive to become our best selves. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs second to top two levels is all about competency and feeling recognised for achievements and being the best human you can be.

To really understand the importance of teaching competence, try this exercise.

Exercise: Fast forward 15 years…

Take a moment to think about your Little Peep as a teenager or young adult, preparing to enter the working world. Write the answers to these questions:

  1. What skills and qualities would you like your future Little Peep to have?
  2. Are they capable of instigating and nurturing positive lasting relationships?
  3. Do they have the basic skills needed to function well in a technologically advanced and hyper-connected world?
  4. Can they stand on their own two feet and support themselves, and do they understand how to manage money?
  5. Do they know how to prepare nutritious meals?
  6. Are they savvy enough to understand safety both online and offline?
  7. Can they clean and clothe themselves? Keep a tidy and hygienic home?
  8. Are they excited about an area of expertise they have developed? Do they stand out in an area that excites them and gives them purpose?
  9. Are they good-natured, kind and happy humans?

To function in the world, one needs to be competent at taking care of themselves and others. Encouraging competence and teaching our Little Learners to become skilled at the basic things in life is an extremely important job.

Are you unintentionally blocking competency?

We’re all doing the best we can with the resources we have. There is no parenting manual, and most of us (in fact 80%+ as our recent research shows) are parenting on autopilot.

In our hyper-busy world, it’s sometimes easier to fall into the trap of doing things yourself. Time pressure, tight deadlines, relentless to-do lists and 1000 demands often have parents feeling like they have to do it all themselves just to get it done. There isn’t a spare moment to teach your Little Learners new skills.

The down sides of doing things yourself are:

  1. You are depriving your Little Learners of learning how to build competence in important everyday skills. In fact, in some cases you may inadvertently be communicating you don’t believe in their ability to do things, which .
  2. You are creating a recurring cycle of helplessness for yourself and them. You may think they are lazy, when in fact you’re not allowing them to learn and do things for themselves.
  3. You feel unsupported and exhausted.

Beware of the secondary gain:

In the study of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) the secondary gain is the benefit one gets from behaving in a certain way that may not be the most obvious or overt benefit. In this case, take a look at the real reason you are doing everything for your Little Learners and ask yourself, what is the secondary gain? It could be that you have a need to feel needed and building your Little Learners dependence on you is one way to do that.

How to build competence in Little Learners

Building competence is simple, but it will require a little extra time initially. Think of it as an investment in your future, a future where you will gain some time back as your Little Learners contribute to the running of the home because they have the skills to do so.

Step 1: Learn how to delegate age appropriate chores

Step 2: Take the time to teach your little learners one new task per week. That’s 52 tasks a year off your list!

Step 3: Let them fail forward – allow them the space to try, fail and adjust without discouraging or criticising them.

Other resources you may find useful:

Why do humans long to belong? Part 1 of a 3 Part Series on Basic Human Psychological Needs

The importance of encouraging Autonomy in Little Learners Part 3 of a 3 Part Series on Basic Human Psychological Needs

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Are we on the same page? Family Agreements

For those who need quick access to the ‘Tude Choosing tool!

Photo by Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash

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