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Too Many Helpings

September 01, 2015

You’re probably accustomed to helping your kids whenever you can — giving advice, solving problems, coming to their aid. In fact, we live in an era of the over-helping parent, whether our kids’ challenges are big or small. Perhaps it’s because we just want them to be happy, and when they come to us looking glum or tearful, complaining about something gone wrong, we do whatever it takes to restore a smile and help them feel that all is well again.

Or perhaps we ourselves simply refuse to tolerate discomfort — our own as well as our children’s — and so we move quickly to resolve their distress (because theirs easily triggers ours).

There’s a serious downside when we step in too soon to help our kids. When we do something for them that they might be able to do themselves, we rob from them an opportunity to feel the satisfaction and pride that comes from their own sense of accomplishment. Facing up to their daily challenges is one way they build their confidence and come to feel good about themselves — what’s sometimes referred to as self-esteem. Of course we don’t always know what they’re capable of, but often we move too quickly and offer our help before we've given them a chance to work things out on their own (or with only minimal involvement from us). Better for us to slow down, step back, and give them time and space to maneuver — to reflect on their situation, to put some thought into determining their options, and to give their solutions a try.

“I don’t have anyone to play with,” complains a youngster on a Sunday afternoon. Better than helping, ask, “What do you want to do about that?” Allow them time to reflect; don’t get hooked by the easy lament of “I don’t know.” Same for when you hear: “I lost my homework sheet,” “My brother is teasing me,” “I don’t like my math teacher,” “I can’t find my soccer shoes.” Such moments offer priceless opportunities for our children to practice problem-solving. It’s the training ground for self-reliance.

In place of helping, offer patience — move slowly and give them time to figure things out — and encouragement: “I have confidence that you’ll come up with ideas of your own.”