Success Training, Not Micro-Managing

Success Training, Not Micro-Managing

Our friend Rachel Macy Stafford’s post, The Manager in My Home & the Five Words that Changed Everything, documents her shift from micro-managing to empowering her daughters. She requested my assistance when dozens of questions flooded in from parents all over the world about how to put perfectionism aside and provide guidance without micro-managing and criticizing. 

One of the points I made that I want to share with you here is this: it’s natural to micro-manage children when you think that they will fail.

That’s why even if you have vowed to let your children do things themselves, you may still find yourself taking over your child’s toothbrush, guiding your toddler’s foot into his or her shoe, or managing your child’s behavior with rewards and punishment.

For many parents, micro-management doesn’t stop even when a child gets older. So what would it take for you to turn over important tasks to your child at any age? The answer is simple:


When you see your child’s mastery improve, it’s easy to back off from managing every detail. But if managing every detail keeps your child from improving, how do you get the proof you need to break that cycle?



Many people think the best way for children to learn is to let them fail. Not so! The most empowering way for children to learn is by success, and it works best if you are there.

Like every Language of Listening® interaction with children, Success Training starts with SAY WHAT YOU SEE®. Judgment-free, objective observation makes it easy for you to see things you would otherwise miss.

One parent shared an example of two little boys chasing each other around a table in a small room. Instead of saying, “No running,” she used the opportunity to do some Success Training and was surprised by what she saw. This is what she said:

They were almost running into each other, and I saw as they came around the corner, one of them slowed down. I said, ‘You slowed down, and you didn’t run into him.’ And then each time he ran around the corner, it was exactly that. He watched to see where the other one was. And when he was watching, I said, ‘You’re being very careful. You’re running, and you’re careful.’

With Success Training, this mom got her proof. All she did was watch, point out successes, and name STRENGTHs after they occurred, and the children showed her more. The proof made it easy for her to let go.

You can do the same thing in the case of task completion. Just focus on every tiny success your child has in moving toward the goal, and SAY WHAT YOU SEE. When a step is omitted, you continue to SAY WHAT YOU SEE to describe the missed step objectively without criticism or negative correction. Then when the entire task is done, you celebrate the child’s overall success and point out the STRENGTHs. Your child will feel empowered and much more able to cooperate

In the case of a 3YO who wants to brush her own teeth but hasn’t mastered it yet, staying with her and providing Success Training can improve her skills (and your relationship). While she brushes, point out the details of what she is doing with a hint of excitement over each success. It could sound like, “You started right in front and brushed up and down on that one… twice! Now that one twice again, and that one…three times!” (Kids usually do more when you point out the positive.) If she misses one, you just describe the location and let her figure out the problem and solve it herself as in, “You got that one and that one. Look right there. There’s one more hiding,” or “That tooth has a back, too,” etc. By focusing on her successes, giving her information, and letting her solve the problem herself, she will feel empowered all the way through, and probably more willing to let you help when needed.

My daughter Betsy had a great moment with another 3YO. At the time she was a substitute teacher at a preschool where they encourage the children to become self-sufficient. One little girl was sitting on the swing barefoot, with her rubber sandals in hand.

Child: (with right toes in right shoe) “Can you help me put my shoes on?”

SWYS: “Hmm…you’ve got your toes in that one already.”

Child: (pushes foot in farther)

SWYS: “You’re pushing your foot in! You know what to do! You just grabbed the back strap, and you’re stretching it on…one shoe on!”

STRENGTH: “You got that shoe on all by yourself.”

Child: (smiles, begins to put left foot into left shoe)

SWYS: “And now you’re putting that foot into the other shoe! You’ve got it halfway in… Oh! Now you’re pushing it against the ground. You’re stomping your foot to get it into that shoe. That’s a new way to do it. And it’s in!”

STRENGTH: “You put both shoes on all by yourself!”

Child: Smiles, starts to swing.

Success Training keeps you and the child focused on the child’s success, which is exactly the proof you need to let go and the best way to help children master difficult tasks. Try it, and let me know what little successes you see that you might have otherwise missed!


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