Resourcefulness, Self-efficacy: Gifts and Tools for Empowering Futures
“If we really want children to grow into independent and resourceful adults, we should stop pouring their milk as soon as they have learned to pour it themselves and stop fastening their buttons as soon as they can fasten them without help.” - Maria Montessori
Resourcefulness: adulthood success training 101
If you’re a parent looking to someday have a grown child move out and take responsibility for their own life, the skills of resourcefulness can be a big asset.
At its core, resourcefulness is the ability to locate, organize and apply information and resources to successfully reach goals. Small goals, big goals, the recipe it the same.
The understated collection of traits that together make up resourcefulness, including self-control, self-efficacy and resilience, have shown to seriously influence futures. Resourcefulness feeds self-determination and is a significant contributor to success.
Studies have associated resourcefulness also with social competence, creativity and personal responsibility. Not bad for an all-in-one.
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” – Maria Montessori
Leading psychologist Albert Bandura first coined the concept of self-efficacy in the 1970’s.
It’s the personal belief in our own competence. It’s our expectation of successfully achieving the things we set out to do. And it’s foundational for resourcefulness and success.
This confidence in our own capabilities develops in different ways: by way of successful direct experiences, learning from other resourceful people, and knowledge gained in school and from the school of life.
According to Bandura, the main way we gain self-efficacy is through mastery: our direct experiences of doing things successfully. Effectively mastering an undertaking or controlling a situation builds self-confidence. Failure undermines our belief in ourselves. So, does not getting a chance to try.
Resourcefulness and over-parenting
To build mastery, efficacy or resourcefulness however, children first need the opportunity.
Psychologist and child development expert, Marilyn Price-Mitchell says that when parents hover, or step in and take over tasks, it deprives a child of important resourcefulness training.
Instead of learning important skills of organizing, planning and problem-solving, kids become dependent on parents and others to do tasks they could be doing for themselves.
Research by Moilanen & Manuel (2019) found that the impact of ‘helicopter’ parenting is broader than just not being able to do things for themselves aka ‘low mastery’. It was also linked to lower social competence and levels of self-control, as well as higher rates of depression.
“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” – Ann Landers
Give many fish or teach to fish
Price-Mitchell calls the skills children gain when parents encourage kids to plan, organize, problem-solve and make decisions on their own – the building blocks of resourcefulness.
It may not look pretty, but it’s critical development.
Even small goals accomplished help make the connection between gathering information, planning, action, delayed gratification, resilience and then, goal attainment. Self-efficacy is achieved when children overcome challenges, exhibit perseverance and eventually prevail through their own efforts.
Parents can give a big gift by talking about the value of resourcefulness and encouraging goal-directed behaviors. It helps kids become forward-thinking and grow as confident, conscientious designers of their own lives. Give this super-power a name. Make it a thing.
In this, they grow and develop tools that will serve them for life. Not the least of which is the gift of self-control.
Learned resourcefulness, self-control & stress
Resourcefulness is about more than intelligence. It involves the skills of emotional information processing as well. It takes the ability to control our thoughts, emotions and behaviors - in order to overcome challenges - on the way to achieving goals.
This is especially important when with coping and dealing with stressful events in our lives.
As parents, we often want to protect our offspring from stress and the weight of the world. Resourcefulness, it turns out can be a sort of stress inoculation.
Forget the car. This is a much better going-off-to-college gift:
Students high in resourcefulness are better able to shield themselves from the negative effects of stress in school. Akgun & Ciarrochi (2010) studied 141 first-year college undergrads and found that academic stress negatively affected the grades of students low in resourcefulness, but not those students who were highly resourceful.
When developing any muscles, little by little over time, is the way to eventually hold heavy weight while avoiding severe pain and injury. Kids that develop self-control and other skills associated with resourcefulness, will be better able to cope with stress and rebound from difficulties later on.
Someone, get that kid a barbell.
Walk beside them and walk them through
Rather than deciding and executing for children, Price-Mitchell proposes instead that parents ‘walk beside’ kids as they learn hands-on.
Tie your hands around your back. Stand still. Take a breath.
Then walk your kid through the process of making that decision, solving that problem and or achieving that goal. Start at the beginning so they can get their arms around it: Do we understand the problem or goal? This step alone saves much time and energy.
Help kids understand what to consider in weighing choices and evaluating options. Resourcefulness requires the ability to question basic assumptions, consider multiple options and entertain possibilities of new things that haven’t been seen before.
Accessing, evaluating information:
Whatever the problem or goal, being able to seek out quality information is an important step.
Resourcefulness is helped by being a conscious and critical consumer of information.
Parents can help kids understand the importance of having factual, accurate information as the basis for solving problems and achieving goals when researching. Otherwise, but garbage in, garbage out.
Access is the easy part. How do you know what you are consuming is true? Relevant?
So much of resourcefulness is getting the relevant information or pieces to a puzzle. That takes being able to discern what’s important or relevant and quickly get, confirm what you need and be able to leave the other 99% alone.
A healthy skepticism and having the want to validate claims can be your best friend when looking to separate quality sources of information from the rest of the internet.
Planning and action:
At some point, problem-free childhoods will disappear like fog. Kids will soon be adults and have goals to achieve and problems to solve just like the rest of us.
Help kids learn to brainstorm options and use creative ways to look beyond the obvious, everyday answers. Resourcefulness is about focusing resources. Let them in on the big secret: money does not actually grow on trees. A good first question: What’s already on hand that might work?
Walk them through possible ways to identify and prioritize selection criteria. What makes a good solution or outcome? They can then evaluate their options and weigh pros and cons.
Share the basics of planning: breaking a larger goal or problem down into distinct, sequenced steps.
The ability to take a large, intimidating goal or problem and break it down into smaller, less-scary, achievable pieces, empowers kids with a map that will always guide them from here to there. No matter the destination.
Then you take the first step and you start. And you don’t stop until that step is completed. Then you go on to the next step and so on and so forth until the goal is achieved or the problem is solved. Step by step.
Planning involves a deadline (even self-imposed), discipline and being a productive user of time. It means in a world of bombardment, learning to focus and not getting distracted from the goal at hand.
Value of the post-analysis
They do it in sports. They do it with stock market trades. That’s because it’s valuable.
Resourceful people learn and grow from their experiences and mistakes. Enter: the post-analysis.
Optimize learning by encouraging the healthy habit of periodically looking back to analyze: What worked? What could have been improved? This process supports a growth-mindset that underlies so much of success and wellness.
Help children become people that see the problem but also immediately see the opportunity.
Most people bring the problem, the complaint. That’s easy. It takes no skill, and about as much effort to just complain. Rather, encourage kids to bring the problem but also a well-considered possible solution. Imagine that!
This process of building self-efficacy also introduces other valuable skills like delayed gratification, flexibility and persistence. The more a kid can move through this sequence on their own in big and little ways - and come out victorious - the more prepared for life they’ll be.
Then all that’s left is the remaining favor to set all this into motion: a loving and vigorous shove from the nest.
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