This is a somewhat uncomfortable subject, but there seems to be a concern these days over parents who “do too much.” The problem of “learned helplessness” has reared its head lately, as children struggle to be independent after having everything done for them. Are you over-parenting? Are you doing too much for your child? How can you tell?
First of all, be easy on yourself. Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty or condemned. Just take a look at your parenting and check out these tips, and make adjustments where you see fit. And of course, above all, keep safety as the first consideration.
1. “It’s Just Easier to Do It Myself”
Yes, in the short term, it is. Who has the time to listen to their seven-year-old gripe about tying his or her shoes – and act like he “can’t” by doing it wrong on purpose – when you need to get out the door or be late? In some cases, it’s better to be late…or anticipate this delay and allow time for it. Likely, it will only happen a few times before your child gets the hint that he’d better just tie her shoes.
Please note, though, that this will only work if your child knows how to do the task you’re expecting, whether it’s tying shoes or getting dressed or making the bed. If your child really doesn’t know how to do something, take the time to teach him first so that you both don’t end up frustrated. That brings us to the next point…
2. Give Your Kids Tools
Parents can err in two extremes – on the one hand, we do too much and don’t let them do anything on their own; but on the other hand, we can’t expect our kids to do things they don’t know how to do. The middle ground is giving kids the tools they need and then getting out of the way.
“Tools” come in the form of life skills, from preparing food to school projects to job interviews. If you step aside too soon, your child may not have the tools he needs to go forward with the task at hand and may give up. If you step in too often or too soon, you child may presume he can’t do it (or not care to bother since you’re doing it) and also give up. So a good idea is to teach your kids the skills involved and then step aside once you know that they know.
Sometimes, that means giving how-to details that can seem ridiculous to an adult, but are necessary for a child.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]From Day 1, we’ve been conditioned to over-function for our kids. By overdoing, over-giving, and over-praising, we are contributing to their ultimate dependence on these things. Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC[/perfectpullquote]
3. Are You Fostering Internal Motivation?
Ultimately, motivation must come from within for true independence, say experts. Broad requests like “do your homework” or “clean your room” can seem overwhelming (think “clean your house” if you’re an adult! It’s a huge task when you phrase it that way).
Coaching and encouragement are fine, experts note; that’s not the same as doing the task for your child. Try making a checklist so he can see the steps involved in the chore or task at hand. Instead of “do your homework,” for example, you could make a list like this:
* Find comfy place to set up books
* Get a drink and a snack
* Write out spelling words and study list
* Do math worksheet
* Read chapter of book and write paragraph summary
You can break it down further, too, into sub-steps – whatever works for your child. Also, a list (preferably one your child helps write out) keeps you from having to tell him what to do over and over.