Our family went out to dinner last week and we brought one of Crew’s friends with us.
The first kid looked the waitress in the eye and told her what she wanted for dinner. The next child ordered and made a modification from the menu — something along the lines of ‘hold anything healthy and add fries’. The next child asked a question to clarify the menu and then she ordered. We went all the way around the table — everyone speaking for themselves. Lastly, when we got to my 5 year old, he looked at the waitress and said, “I’ll have a quesadilla, please.”
The waitress looked at me with a huge smile. I assumed she was pleased as punch that they all ordered for themselves because I sure was. The kids were all so polite; they spoke clearly; they looked at her, and they took responsibility for their meals.
As we waited for our food, Crew’s friend commented, “Wow. I’ve never done that before.” When we asked what he was talking about he replied, “Ordered for myself.”
I was a little surprised because Chad and I have always made the kids order for themselves at restaurants – since they were little. They step to the register and state what they want or they tell the waiter. If they have a question about the menu, they have to ask. If they want to hold something from or add something to their plate, they have to make that clear. If they need an item brought to the table, they have to make the request.
(Later in the meal, Locke didn’t even go through mom or dad. He just asked the waitress, on his own, if we could have more chips and salsa.)
Early on in their lives the kids were reluctant to order, but they knew they wouldn’t get fed unless they spoke for themselves. So with much practice, coaching and example, they got more and more comfortable, and now they do a pretty good job of ordering their meals.
But it is not just in restaurants where I have the kids speak for themselves. I give them as much opportunities as I can.
For example, Elle was sick and we went to the doctor. When the nurse asked us the preliminary questions, I had Elle answer. Then the doctor came in and asked more questions. Again, I had Elle speak for herself. After all, she knew better than anyone how she was feeling. I chimed in with a few details, after Elle got a chance to talk, but first and foremost, Elle was an advocate for her own health.
A few days later my 7 year old daughter wanted to invite a new friend over to play. Croft wanted me to call, but I insisted that she needed to do the talking. We role played a bit and Croft dialed the number. She panicked as the phone rang and tried to pass it to me, but I passed it back to her, just as the mom answered. She was scared, but she did a great job and asked if her friend could play. Arranging her own play date was good practice for her.
Croft also needed different people to participate in her baptismal program. I had her ask each participate via phone, text or in person. I wanted her to own her day.
Elle had some questions and concerns about her dance schedule. She had to talk to her company director and work out the details.
Maybe my parenting style comes from my upbringing with 9 siblings. Although we rarely went out to eat, my mom expected us to do most things for ourselves. My mom didn’t have time to talk to our teachers for us or arrange our social calendar or do our homework. She didn’t call other parents or coaches or bosses or friends and smooth things over for us. And beyond speaking, she didn’t come around and cut each one of our pancakes or obsess over our hair each morning or pack our backpacks. I was doing my own laundry, arranging my own carpools and filling out college applications by myself. She had 10 kids after all.
Sheer numbers necessitated independence.
But even though I don’t have 10 children, I can see the value in fostering independence in our children — not hovering, not coddling, not underestimating, not speaking for them.
I believe when we encourage children to speak for themselves, it sends the message to them that we trust them and that we believe that they are capable. Allowing them to speak gives them a voice and shows them that their voice is worth being heard. The more they learn to articulate their own wants and needs, the more their confidence grows.
Now I am not perfect at this by any means. I still catch myself talking for my children when an adult asks them a question, but at least I’m off to a good start. They get many opportunities to speak for themselves, and if nothing else, they can order themselves a meal.