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Increasing Your Child’s Independence and Initiative

January 5th, 2017     By Chris McGinnis, Ph.D., BCBA-D | Clinic Director for Boys Town South Florida’s Behavioral Health Clinic

Parent-Child Relationships

Ever feel like you’re doing too much to help your child or teen be successful but with very little success?

For example, without sitting down with your child and helping with homework you know it would never get done? And yet your child is getting no more independent with it as time goes on?

You may be right. You may be doing too much.

In economics, there is a concept called the Laffer curve, and it has to do with getting the federal tax rate set at the right place along the curve in order to maximize tax revenue.

At a 0% tax rate, no tax revenue comes in. At a 100% tax rate, no tax revenue comes in (after all, if the government took all of your earnings, would you work?)

So there is a “sweet spot” between 0% and 100% at which the government may tax income (at any given time and based on many factors) and reap the most tax revenue without stifling economic growth.

Past that point, there are diminishing returns. The higher the tax rate past that point, the less tax revenue is collected.

I’ve found this to be a wonderfully useful metaphor in clinic. The more we accommodate past a certain sweet spot, the less independence and initiative we see in our children.

If you find you are working harder or care more than your child does to maintain his or her success at anything, you may have gone past the sweet spot.

Back up. Back out. Don’t care as much. Set and communicate your expectations supportively, and then allow your child to fail. Hope for bad grades and tears and accusations from your child of bad parenting. All of this could be evidence that you are moving in the right direction.

Exerting the least amount of effort to get the job done is a sign of intelligence. Your child may have trained you to assist in reducing the effort required of him or her for certain things. It may be time for you to take the reins and train your child that more effort is required now – not through your words, but through your behavior.

And, smile through the entire process.

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