Am I Hurting My Child By Doing Too Much
My son used to leave his juice glass in his bedroom each night so that by the end of the week there was literally at least seven glasses or mugs in his bedroom. I would ask and ask and ask……………. but eventually I gave up and just brought them downstairs.
There were so many times I helped him when I should have let him handle the situation or accept the consequences.
When I look back and ask myself why, I find that, besides wanting to avoid confrontation, I also had a strong desire to protect him and see him succeed, even when the success was partially unearned. I was looking at the situation selfishly as well as short term.
A controlling parent can interfere with the goal of raising a responsible child. Our children will be more responsible if we, as parents, choose to sometimes take a more passive role. Of course we need to be protective but often we take the idea of protection too far and then complain when our children are irresponsible.
Our children begin life helpless and parents must do everything for their tiny infant, baby and then toddler. But we often grow accustomed to this role and fail to see when we can do less. The realization that we are doing too much may go undetected for a period of time. That may be long enough for your child to get the message that they can do less and mom and dad will take care of it. In my opinion, it is best to keep the concept of teaching responsibility as a prioritized goal. Test the water often and see just how much your child can do for himself. Think about how we teach a child to walk or ride a bike or swim. We give support in graduated stages until voila. They do it themselves.
The same is true for other activities that have multiple steps such as getting ready for school, cleaning the room and preparing for bedtime.
We all learn through practice as well as from mistakes. When my son attempted to pour milk in his cereal bowl and spilled all over himself, the floor as well as under the fridge, I did not stop him from trying again. I lessened the potential mess by giving him a small amount to pour. I guided his tiny hand so his aim was better. I assisted him while encouraging more and more independence. That was easy to do. Many parents have difficulty allowing their children to make mistakes and would rather do more for them until they can do it well themselves. I work with many parents who still wipe their child’s bottom and pick up their toys even though they are clearly old enough to do it themselves. When I ask why, the answer is always, because I like it to be done right. These parents are delivering a message that is destructive. Give your child the gift of independence, confidence and responsibility by allowing them to be as independent as possible.
A natural consequence occurs naturally. Touching a hot stove will provide an immediate consequence. That is guaranteed. Of course we don’t want to let our children get hurt physically. However, there are many situations or choices children make that result in sad feelings rather than physical injury. In those situations, it may be wise to allow natural consequences to unfold.
Allowing natural consequences to occur in everyday life is far from automatic. It is actually more natural for a parent to protect their child rather than see them suffer. There are many times we should allow life to teach our child important lessons.
For more information about natural consequences please read my book:
Strengthen Your Parenting Muscle available on Amazon and Kindle
How do you know when you are doing too much for your child?
- You become anxious when your child has a deadline or becomes frustrated.
- Your first response to your child’s problem or complaint is to give advice or take over.
- You find it unbearable to see your child struggle.
- You frequently do something yourself instead of waiting for your child to do it.
- You feel the need to micromanage their eating, appearance, or social life.
- You tend to overstep your boundaries as a parent and disrespect their privacy.
If enabling your child has become a pattern it will be more difficult to make a change but it is well worth the effort.
Begin with a discussion about what you have learned and why it is important to change how you engage in your child’s life. Adding points such as respect for their ability and confidence that they can handle any situations without your help will be appreciated and help to focus on what is gained rather than what they might interpret as a loss of assistance. Reassure them that you are not deserting them but teaching them to be more self reliant so that as they grow up they will be able to be more independent. There are many opportunities and privileges that responsible and independent children have that their counterparts do not.
When they come to you for help, listen rather than advise and ask them what THEY think they could do. Give them time to problem solve and don’t expect an answer in five seconds or even five minutes. They are used to you fixing things and there will be an adjustment time. Bite your tongue and do less. Tell them: “I know you can do this. I have faith that you’ll figure it out.”
Sharon Youngman is a parent educator living and working in Manhattan. She is the author of Strengthen Your Parenting Muscle and the founder of Good Parents, GREAT Kids.
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