Can initiative be taught?

While having the pleasure of traveling with my family for the past three weeks I had the opportunity to just notice some things.  Most of the noticing made me very proud, some curious and some of it absolutely and utterly perplexed.

Among this confusion is the notion of initiative.

For the first four days husband and I agreed that we were probably rather similar in our teens, on the fifth day of lugging suitcases, preparing meals, tidying hotel rooms, repacking suitcases that had somehow combusted overnight, our levels of patience were wearing thin.

We realised that it was the lack of initiative on part of our eldest two children that was driving us nutty.  Let’s make it clear that I do not have favourites, but when it comes to the stakes of initiative, youngest tween has it in spades leaving her older siblings in a haze of wi-fi.

Of course we realised expecting our lovelies to adjust to the expectations of their traveling environment immediately was a big ask, but the constant drone of ‘pack your bag’, ‘clean up your dishes’, ‘pick up that rubbish’, ‘get off the wi-fi’ was driving us bananas.

In the car I decided to play collaborative mama;

“Hey guys” I asked in the voice they know as duh mode “how would you teach someone initiative?” I asked them.

“Why don’t you ask what you really want to” said the eldest smartypants

“OK” I changed tact, “how can I teach YOU initiative?”

“Easy” he replied “give me one hundred bucks and let me loose in the city”

I gave up, afterall I was on holidays and this conversation was quickly becoming as difficult as that time I had to tell a kid he couldn’t buy a machete with the credits he’d earned through his community work.  I wasn’t going to get out of this unscathed.  So I gave up while I was ahead.

As the journey went on different conversations got me thinking about how heavily structured society is today for our kids.  I wondered if we are actually living in an age where there is little scope for the natural development of initiative.

Think about it for a moment.  Most structured activities that kids are part of are coupled with copious insurance requirements, forms must be signed, we must wait until the risk assessment is completed, the right protective gear must be procured and we should be cautious that there are no possible exposures to allergies in the process.

We live in the age of helicopter parenting where a kid that hasn’t been seen for 5.23 minutes is a kid at risk.  We live in a time where there are instructions for EVERYTHING, there is little left to work out because there’s even a step spelt out about opening up the box first.

What opportunities do kids have to learn initiative?  And what is our role as parents to nurture it?

I’d really love to know your thoughts on this because quite frankly I’m at a bit of a loss.

Having said that, Ms Tween highlighted that it is not a lack of definition that we are missing in the initiative stakes.  A few nights after the great initiative discussion I left the hotel without my mobile phone and went into a great panic about the whole thing.  When we got back it was safely there.  She gently sidled up to me and said;

“Well mum.  You know how you want us to learn initiative?”

Here it comes I thought

“Well, you might like to lead by example and check your handbag before you go out.  That would be showing initiative”  she told me

I took the initiative to brace myself for the next decade or so.


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