As parents, we all want our children to succeed. It is with a sense of pride and joy that we relish every accomplishment from the first steps to the first graduation, and everything in between. We teach our children and guide them, and we even give them an extra push once in a while, all in an effort to watch them be successful in everything that they do.
There is a down side, however, to being overly invested in our children’s success. We tend to jump in too quickly and too frequently to “help” our children. Often this ends up looking like simply doing things for them that might be able to do on their own, or even interfering unnecessarily and ruing their fun. You might not even be aware that you are falling into this trap.
Take a look at a few examples of when you might be taking over a little too much.
- Your teenaged son is teaching a younger neighbor how to play tennis. Everything seems to be going very well, and both kids are having a great time. But, you notice that they’re not doing everything exactly right with the strokes, so you step in to correct everything your son just told the younger child. Now, nobody is having fun anymore, and your son is upset with you.
- Your daughter is making a project for her school science fair. She has come up with a creative way to build her project and is excited to tell you about it and what materials she needs to make it. Rather than getting her the materials and allowing her to make the project she chose to make, you take over and make something “better” for her. In the end, this is your project, not hers.
- Your child comes home from school and says he is going in his room to do his homework. Instead of allowing him the opportunity to try completing it on his own without your help, you demand he sit at the kitchen table to do his work. At the first sign of a struggle with the material, you jump in and basically do the rest of the assignment for him, never allowing him the chance to try to figure out on his own, or even to ask you for help.
- Your child has quirky taste in clothing and hairstyles. While nothing she has chosen is inappropriate or harmful in any way, you simply don’t care for her style. Rather than letting her be who she is, you dictate what style of clothing she must wear and what her hairstyle must be.
Can you relate to any of these scenarios? Most parents have done at least one of these things. Everything is done with love and out of true caring for our children. We simply want what is best for them and for them to do well. Unfortunately, we are often hindering our children more than we are helping them when we micro-manage every aspect of their lives.
When trying to decide when to take over or not, consider the following:
- Can my child do this on their own? Even if they have to struggle a bit, if they can ultimately do this on their own, you don’t need to do it for them. My children’s 4th grade teacher had a saying, “OYO”. You had to first try On Your Own before she would step in to help. As a matter of fact, doing for them what they are capable of doing themselves makes them needy and dependent, and actually stunts their development. So, as difficult as it might be to watch them struggle, or not do something perfectly, just let it be. They will feel a sense of pride in what they have accomplished all on their own. You will also be helping them learn to tolerate frustration and solve problems, both of which are important life skills.
- Did they ask you for help? Do they even want your help? Often, when we see our kids struggling or not doing something perfectly, we automatically assume that they want it to be better and that they want our help. The truth of the matter is that this is usually untrue. Teach your children to ask for help when they truly need it, but learn to resist the urge to jump in unnecessarily. If you always jump in to help or take over, your children will lose the drive to even put forth any effort of their own. Worse, if you interfere with teenagers when not asked for or desired, you will also be damaging your relationship with your child, as they will resent your actions and ultimately you.
- What is the difference being helping and doing? Helping is offering guidance and support, pointing your child in the right direction to find the answer or solution himself. It could look like showing them how to do something and then watching them do it on their own. Doing, on the other hand, is literally stepping in and taking over, doing your child’s work or task for them. While you might think you are helping, because whatever the assignment or task is will be done better if you do it for him, you are actually demeaning your child. By taking over and doing something for them, you are sending a message that you do not have any confidence in your child’s ability to complete this on their own. Be careful.
- Will it be detrimental to my child if I don’t help? In other words, will it actually cause harm to your child if you don’t step in? Obviously, when there is a safety issue, you won’t hesitate to jump in. But when the reality is that your daughter might get a C on her project instead of an A, that is not harmful. Actually, allowing your child to receive the grade they actually earned could help motivate them to do better, or even to ask for help, next time.
All parents love their children and want to help them flourish. Sometimes, with all good intentions, parents help too much, and create an even bigger problem as they launch their children. For example, if you always help your high schooler get an ‘A’ on his homework, and spend hours helping him study for every test, he might get accepted to a highly selective college. Highly selective colleges are very demanding, and you won’t be there to help him. I have heard countless stories of kids failing out of school because they just weren’t prepared to do things on their own. Don’t make that mistake.