Can Your Kids Accept Help? Can You?

One of the key indicators of people who are constantly breathing-in (Breathing In and Out: One Idea for Avoiding Burn Out), is their inability to accept help. Often they are the first people to put their hand-up when someone else needs something done, often they are the most loyal and wonderful friends, and they also don’t want to bother others or cause a fuss. Sometimes they’re the kind of person who feels embarrassed when they can’t ‘do it all.’  Yet, living in our isolated little boxes struggling with all the stressors and strains of modern life is not how we are meant to live. When our brains are working as they were intended to work, we are comfortable with times of stillness and we are comfortable relying on other people. 

Since we unplugged the electronics and plugged in the children, we’ve got rid of the rubbish toys and bought more lego. One of the side-effects of so much lego, is that I am often asked to print of instructions for alternative models. At one such time the Hare was busily taking sheets of paper out of the printer and slipping them into a clear-sleeve folder when the Owl offered to help. The Hare was clearly not keeping up with the printer and I had one of those, oohhhh that’s so cute moments. But the Hare really struggled with the whole idea. He is a classic kid for not breathing-out, well, not often breathing-out unless we’ve created a set space for it to happen. He is constantly busy, an early (5.30am is not uncommon) riser and his brain is always 10 steps ahead of anything going on at the time. Yes, he is exhausting to live with (gorgeous, charming, fun, and exhausting). So really, I shouldn’t have been surprised that he initially struggled to accept help from his younger brother.

The three way conversation, with me as conductor, resulted in the following insights: the Hare found the offer to help to be intrusive – not useful; and he found the loss of control over placing the papers in the correct order – difficult. After a few minutes though, he accepted his brother’s help and the task went ahead swimmingly. He was gracious and truly grateful. It was an OMG moment for me on another level – I too have times when I interpret offers of help as either intrusive or ‘taking over’.

Like the ability to breathe-out (stop and do nothing, not even read or drink a coffee, for 10 minutes) the ability to ask for and/or accept help is a struggle if we are programmed to expect constant stress as our normal state. For example, the amount of busy-ness and rushing around a child experiences in the first  years of life, or the amount of noise they have in their home – becomes their template for later life. The level of stress (as the baby interprets it, not the adults) experienced in those early years is what they think of as normal, and constantly try to recreate or exceed. Those with a highly adventurous-social streak who find it particularly hard to stop anyway, can become workaholics. Those with a sensitive-reclusive streak can become completely overwhelmed.

Perhaps it’s worth reflecting on how stressful our early life was, and to take the time to consider how easily we spend time in stillness each day, or how well we accept help. Is help an intrusion? Does help cause discomfort or embarrassment?

Human brains are adaptable, we can change. I’ve heard it said that it takes 28 days to create a habit. If change is what you want, start small: three minutes a day sitting still doing nothing; accept one offer of help in the next month – and build it up from there. There’s no hurry. Truly. 😉

Ref: The Developing Mind, Daniel J Siegel

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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22 Responses to Can Your Kids Accept Help? Can You?

  1. Stillness is so very important…agreed. : )

  2. hakea says:

    What? Constant stress is not a normal state?

    One of my former bosses said to me, that my stress is the result of being an introvert by nature and doing a job that requires me to be an extrovert. A lot of adrenalin is required to do something that does not come naturally, and requires downtime in order to recharge. She was a terrible bully and control freak, but I think she was right on this occasion. So that would fit with the adventurous social vs sensitive reclusive modes that you mention.

    • Great that you could take something positive from her! I imagine there are many natural introverts being forced into an unnatural state of exuberance these days, just as there must have been several natural extroverts who struggled to be ‘seen and not heard’ once upon a time.

  3. I don’t delegate anything. My mind is programmed to believe that I will do it the way I want it done- quicker. It is a reason why I struggle with the idea of employees…. People I have to train.

    What you have said gives me something to think about.

    • It is hard to see people doing things a different way to us, when we’re passionate about something or have nursed a new business to life. Often though, they can come up with a way which is different, but as good or better. It is tricky, when doing things well is part of who we are, though. 🙂

  4. Lauren says:

    Reading the first paragraph of your post was basically like reading a book describing who I am. Its scary that its exactly what I do!

    I honestly need to sit down and breathe out and rely on others for a change!

    • Hope I didn’t freak you out too much, Lauren. Just take it in small steps – as I said, sitting still for three minutes was horrendous for me the first day. I put the timer on the microwave and just sat. I now know I can’t actually sit watching the numbers count down either. LOL Tomorrow I’m up to five minutes…can’t imagine how that’s going to go!

  5. Li-ling says:

    I wonder if our reactions to offers from help stem from these constant messages we get (particularly as women) that we can and should be able to ‘do it all’ and ‘have it all’, i.e. have a job, raise a family, keep house, cook, have a hobby, socialise …and the list goes on!
    I think for me, quitting work was probably the biggest admittance of ‘I can’t do it all’ certainly not all at once, and since then I’ve tried to remember to take some time for myself to just ‘be’.

    • I think those messages are definitely a contributing factor: perhaps they began in our childhood and have just compounded when became adults. I am definitely an all or nothing person – I can’t do lots of things well, all at once – certainly not with babies and young children anyway. It was a huge relief when I gave myself permission to ‘just’ parent.

  6. Laura Weldon says:

    This is one of those epiphany posts. I’m still thinking about the impact of the first few years and how that template of stress, as our infant selves perceive it, continues to affect us.

    I also have another layer to add to your observation that some of us “interpret offers of help as either intrusive or ‘taking over’.” I’m one of those help-others-but-never-ask-for-help sorts of people. In times of crisis I become even worse, struggling to make it clear that I’m managing just fine despite suffering through crime/grief/ill health/unemployment. For me it has nothing to do with avoiding intrusion or control by others. It has to do with self-worth. That too stems from the earliest years, some kind of unconscious message that it’s not okay to “bother” others with our cries, fears, or needs. That’s why nurturing our children is so important.

    • Absolutely. Most people don’t seem to realise that self-worth comes largely from our sense of connection with others – one person (hopefully, but not necessarily, Mum) when we are babies and then with a growing range of people. I had a major epiphany when I realised this connection between early years and adulthood too. I then began quietly asking questions of aunts, grandparents etc – to get other adult perspectives of what was going on when I was small. There were enough revelations to explain a lot of ‘me’ I couldn’t previously understand. The great news is, of course, we can break those patterns within a generation.

      • Narelle Smith says:

        This pattern of behaviours is consistent with the anxious-avoidant type of insecure attachment (Bowlby) which accounts for about 40% of people.

        Adults can become ‘resolved secure’ by acknowledging their patterns of behaviour and working through them.

        The following paragraph is from: Fosha, D. (2002). Trauma reveals the roots of resilience. Constructivism in the Human Sciences, 6 (1 & 2), 7-15.

        “People who have been overwhelmed by unbearable emotions become afraid to feel, and develop affect phobias. They seek safety in numbing their senses, steeling their bodies, and hardening their hearts. People who have been hurt, betrayed, and discarded by others they have loved, become afraid of loving. Afraid of emotional contact, they seek safety in isolation, detachment, and a relentless, and brittle, self-reliance. In thus seeking safety, they actually cut themselves off from the two greatest sources of adaptation Mother Nature endowed us with – emotions and attachments (Bowlby, 1988; Darwin, 1872). The defence mechanisms instituted to protect, instead lead not only to emptiness, loneliness, fragmentation and despair, but also to being out of control and to being either a target for further victimisation, or else at risk for becoming a victimiser.”

        This is a great post for highlighting this pattern of behaviour and making it accessible to everyone.

        • Hello there my no.1 referencing blog-buddy!
          Thanks for this as supporting evidence, I try to avoid using the avoidant, ambivalent, secure labels as I feel they only tell part of the story and they can be a bit daunting for people. It would be interesting to see if the percentages change with this generation of children (generally) having a lot more time rushing around, and not all parents having the knowledge or skills to keep the attachment side of things strong.
          Great to have the thumbs-up on this post – I thought it was an important one, too. 🙂

  7. Oh dear. I also had a heavy heart when I read the first paragraph. That’s me too! Before children, I was a workaholic and I thought that asking for help was a sign of weakness. Now, with two small children, I still have a hangover of this ridiculous notion and have to force myself to put my hand up and ask for help from anyone other than my partner (sadly no grandparents around at the moment). I think I’m being bothersome, annoying bla bla. I try to remind myself how I feel when somebody asks me for help – usually, I puff up with a wonderful sense of being needed and love the idea. I also remind myself that children should be raised in a community of people; it’s great for them and me. As for tomorrow, I might just start with 3 minutes. Thank you.

  8. Three minutes is a great place to start. It was very hard for me to do that first day, and I realised I can’t sit facing the microwave timer and watch the numbers count down either. Today, I was up to five 1/2 minutes (the aim is 10) and it really wasn’t a chore. I just sit and let my mind drift where ever it wants to go. I really like your idea of imagining how you feel when you’re asked for help, that will help me to accept more help too. Love the blogosphere! 🙂

  9. Elena says:

    So hard to accept or ask for help. But now that I have kids in the house old enough to help, I resent that they don’t just step in and help even though I haven’t asked. I often hear myself thinking, “Why do I have to beg when it is obvious that such-and-so needs doing?” It is an absurd mental game I play in my own head. Running around doing everything myself and feeling bitter about it. *sigh*

    • That’s what I call domestic blindness. I think a lot of women have the same issue with their husbands! The thing that irks me (only slightly, because it also makes me proud) is that our kids are always keen to help the neighbours, or complete strangers without being asked, but not us! The older two are over at a neighbours helping build planters for his garden right at this moment, but *our* garden is a mess.

  10. faemom says:

    I am so the person that cannot ask or accept help. I need to model better behavior for the kids.

    • Hi Fae,
      I think it’s a failing that many women have – there are so many messages we grow up with about doing it all, and having it all (all at the same time) – such a croc. I was astounded at how hard I found just sitting still and doing nothing for three minutes the first day. No one has offered to help me out lately, but next time someone does, I’m planning to shock them by accepting!

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