One of the things many parents struggle with or mismanage is the amount of help they give their children. It’s an important aspect to get right (or as right as is humanly possible) because it can lead to long-term problems and is a key to developing true self-assurance. Or not.
It all tends to get muddled because of the paradox of wanting our children to be independent and successful, but also safe. These are normal ambitions and we tend to beat ourselves up when we see things not working as we think they should.
Some parents give too little – they push independence too early, they force activities and structured learning on to their kids too soon and they display little empathy (few hugs and little true listening). These parents usually think their children are confident when it’s all really bravado – the kids are sad and are actually quivering in their boots. These are the children who are likely to be nasty with language or use exclusion as a form of power with friendships. ( In other words: they’re most likely to be social bullies.)
Other parents give too much help. They prevent their children from doing things because they don’t want their children to be hurt in any way, but don’t know when to say, enough – now do it yourself. They struggle to say a simple, No, and stick with it and more likely to resort to bribery to get what they want. While the first group of parents tend to assume all tantrums are Power Tantrums, this group tends to assume all tantrums are Distress Tantrums. The children which result from this approach (after the age of four or five – as temperament is more likely to dominate before then) are the ones who seem a bit wimpy and pathetic and who show they are easily overwhelmed emotionally. They’re obvious targets for the first group. (In other words: they’re most likely to be socially bullied.)
There is a key question I recommend, which I use frequently and I begin using when the boys were a year old – 18 months. They might not understand or respond to begin with, but it doesn’t take long before they can and before you know it – they can use it accurately too :).
Can you manage or do you need help?
As part of this strategy, assume they are going to get it wrong some times. Assume they will get it wrong often, during the first couple of years. And just step in and help them fix the mess/pain/embarrassment. Take them to the emergency department if you have to. Calmly. Without a lecture. They need to do the thinking…the processing…the learning. It’s much harder for them to do that if we’re yabbering on in the background.
The first group of children I spoke about assume they can do things and don’t/won’t/can’t ask for help. The second group of children assume they can’t do things and often don’t/won’t/can’t attempt things.
It actually doesn’t matter if we know they can manage. What matters, to the outcome of their life, is that they know they can manage. And when they can’t. And that they can come to us for useful help.
I intend to make some suggestions for older children and help with homework next time. If I don’t someone please nudge me in the right direction!