Wendy Moss and Donald Moses: On Parenting

This is the latest in a series of interviews with APA Books authors. For this interview, Susan Herman, Developmental Editor and consultant for APA Books, spoke with child development experts Wendy L. Moss, PhD, and Donald A. Moses, MD, the authors of a new book for parents, Raising Independent, Self-Confident Kids: Nine Essential Skills to Teach Your Child or Teen, which discuss ways parents can build their child’s confidence, decision making abilities, tolerance for frustration, patience, and self-sufficiency.

Parenting is a delicate dance. We all struggle with how to set limits, when to “just let it go,” and what freedoms to allow our kids. And eventually, we all want our kids to grow up and be independent adults—we hope they’ll still call on us sometimes, but we want them to get a solid launch with their own lives. In this interview, Moss and Moses talk about why it’s important to nurture independence for kids at all ages and stages.

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

Wendy L. Moss, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist. She has counseled children as young as 3 and realizes that even such young children are capable of starting their journey toward independence.

Donald A. Moses, MD, is a psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and young adults. He and Moss recently co-authored a book for APA’s imprint Magination Press titled The Tween Book: A Growing Up Guide for the Changing You.

SH:     How do you define “independence,” whether you’re talking about children or adults?

WM & DM: Almost no one is entirely self-sufficient. [As adults] we rely on surgeons, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and others to help us in areas where we lack expertise. An independent child is comfortable doing age-appropriate tasks and knows when to ask for help from others when it is actually needed.  Ironically, this same definition can be used to define an independent adult.  When a person of any age has confidence, can tolerate the frustration of learning new skills when capable of doing so, and can make sound decisions when options are available, it is more likely that this individual will be a capable and independent person.

SH: When a child doesn’t develop self-confidence and independence, what happens? How does that affect his or her ability to function in daily life?

WM & DM: If a child doesn’t feel capable of handling responsibilities or mastering tasks, that child may become irritable, clingy, demanding, anxiety-ridden, or even seek social groups that do not put expectations on him.

When a person feels capable, that person is also more likely to communicate to the world that she is valuable and should be valued. A person who feels capable is also more likely to try new tasks and believe that he can achieve new goals. Without confidence, children are left to question whether they can achieve and rely on others to help them.

SH: Who else is affected, besides the child herself?

WM & DM: A child’s lack of self-confidence and independence can impact parents, siblings, friends, work production, and social behaviors. When young children lack self-confidence and independence, they may cling to their parents or have emotional outbursts when feeling unable to cope with expectations on their own.  They may become school-phobic, have separation anxiety when the parent tries to leave, or even resent the accomplishments of peers and siblings because they question whether they can ever achieve them.

Sometimes, siblings are impacted because the child who lacks confidence requires so much attention that the sibling may feel overlooked.

When a child does not feel capable, he may also demand one-on-one time with friends because he fears that he won’t be recognized and valued when in a group.

In adulthood, a lack of confidence can also affect significant others and children.

SH: What is your definition of bullying? It seems like we’re having a cultural moment right now where it’s important to distinguish between bluntness and the need to “grow a thick skin” versus actions that are truly harmful to others and putting a stop to those harmful behaviors.

WM & DM: Bullying, as we described in our book (p. 172), “occurs when there is an imbalance of power, and the more powerful child purposely picks on a more vulnerable child.” What can be confusing, though, is that not all bullying is actually done by bullies.

Imagine two friends who like to joke around and then one of them suddenly starts pushing the other into walls, laughing at the other, or telling other kids some embarrassing things about the other. This may be joking gone too far, or misperceiving the effect of the actions on the friend.  In our experiences, there have been times when the one labeled ‘bully’ learns that the other person was hurt by the actions or words and began to cry.  Sometimes the friend could simply say ‘Cut it out, that’s not cool’ and that’s the end of the problem.

Friends and siblings often joke with each other and even about each other. These situations provide good opportunities for children to be assertive about how they react, increase communication about what they will tolerate in the relationship, and learn from adults who can offer guidance.

When a true instance of bullying occurs, it’s time to: (1) make sure the target is safe; (2) offer the target some strategies to deal with very minor bullying; and (3) offer adult intervention when appropriate.

We use the term ‘target’ rather than ‘victim’ because the individual often has choices and is not totally helpless in many situations.

SH: I love the section in the book on teaching kids to be “upstanders” for others. What are some ways parents can teach kids to stand up for what’s right?

WM & DM: Upstanders are generally aware of situations in which they might be able to help, can understand how others such as a target might be feeling, and have some assertiveness skills to intervene. In order to help children to become Upstanders, here are some quick tips for parents:

  • Model being an Upstander and then spend time discussing why you spoke up in the situation and why you intervened in the way you did.
  • Use literature or even television shows as fuel for discussions on how characters felt, why certain children might have felt ridiculed or left out, and how an Upstander could help change that fictional individual’s outlook or situation.
  • Be available for your child to talk with you about situations at school or other locations where he or she notices inequities. This allows you to then talk about whether it’s appropriate for your child to help out, and if so, how.
  • If your child has acted as an Upstander, whether you feel the action was entirely appropriate or not, it’s important to offer positive feedback for your child’s efforts and desire to help. You can then talk more about additional ways, or more effective ways, to have been an Upstander.
  • Discuss when the situation is serious or even dangerous. In these cases, kids can be Upstanders by getting adult help rather than personally stepping in.
  • You can even share in an organized public event together, such as joining an “Equal Rights” March, so you are modeling and sharing the experience of being Upstanders.

Teaching your child to become an Upstander is not done in a single conversation. In addition, discussions about it can focus on very different situations as your child goes from being a child to a tween to a teen.

SH: You included a chapter in the book about technology use. What are some technology-related conversations we need to be having with our kids?

WM & DM: Parents may have heard a lot about the dangers of allowing their children to have free rein on the internet.  First, however, let’s talk about the positive consequences of children knowing how to use technology.  With adult supervision, these children have quick access to a vast array of information, can socialize with peers or work on group projects together via social media sites, and may even be able to access teacher websites where assignments are listed and explained.

Of course, parents need to supervise their child’s use of computers and it’s often helpful to put technology devices in a family room where they can be monitored.  A few key discussions, that are worth revisiting over time, include:

  • stranger danger
  • being careful not to create a technology footprint that may negatively impact their reputation
  • the risk of being photographed or taking pictures of others and sharing
  • realizing that what is written to one person may be viewed by many more kids than intended
  • jokes may be misunderstood because you can’t hear the voice inflections
  • that over-reliance on socializing via text or social media may not allow for time together with friends doing activities such as playing kickball or doing art projects together.

In discussing and monitoring your child’s use of the internet, consider the risks, the benefits to being exposed to technology, your child’s age, maturity level, and judgment.

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