The Parenting Challenge of Discerning When to Help and When to Sit Still
A butterfly takes flight for the first time, showing it’s beautiful colors. What would happen if it feared the transformation? Or if a fellow butterfly hindered it’s flight? The butterfly’s wings would freeze or get stuck in it’s cocoon.
As parents, it is hard to see our kids get stuck. We want to see them grow and reach their dreams. And, we would do almost anything to help them reach their goals. So when does helping kids assist their growth and when does it block growth?
When Parents Absorb their Child’s Fear And Block Growth
When my daughter learned to ride her bike. It was a much longer process than I anticipated. Her fear got in the way. She would start peddling, get scared, and stop. For months, I held on to her seat, her arm, or her back until we were both tired of trying.
I almost lost hope. Then, I realized that I needed to let go. I was holding on too tight and hindering her flight. By holding on to her, I was agreeing with her fear, that bike riding is scary.
When I let go, she just did it. She couldn’t believe that she was riding all by herself. To see her do it all by herself was gratifying to both of us. It was a day to celebrate.
Let Go and Allow Growth in Your Child
What about you? Are there areas you might be holding your child back from growing?
I wasn’t intentionally holding her back. I was trying to be patient, yet was treating her fragile. I had tried talking to her about facing her fears, but it didn’t help. My actions didn’t match my words.
I had to get out of the way, and show her I wasn’t afraid. By letting go, I invited both her triumphs and her falls. I was no longer treating her fragile and hindering her wings from growing.
As parents, we don’t intentionally get in the way of our child’s growth. In fact, it can be really hard to see how we could be interfering with our child’s mastery of a task or conquering a fear.
Markers of Over-Helping from Parents
How do you know when your helping is getting in the way of your child’s growth? In theory, the more one thinks they have all the answers, the more the other one has none.
Here are some markers of over-helping:
- You think you have all the solutions, while your child doesn’t seem to have any solutions.
- You spend great time and energy trying to solve their problem.
- You want them to reach the goal more than they want it.
- You treat your child fragile as if they are broken, lost, or sick.
- Worry about your child is guiding you more than the facts or your parenting philosophy.
I wanted my daughter to master this new task more than she wanted to. I expected her to master it as fast as I did. I was worried that she would be the only one on the block her age that couldn’t ride a bike. And, I eventually let her worry convince me that she needed a lot of help.
Manage Your Worry About Child’s Ability to Problem Solve
Once my daughter faced her fear without my interference or over-helping, she smiled so big. She told me, “Now, I believe what is in my heart, instead of what my worry says in my head.” My heart melted as she so eloquently got it.
Not all challenges that kids face are this easy to overcome. As you know, once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget. Yet, most challenges are faced again and again. We have many opportunities to let our child grow and learn.
Whether your child or teen is facing social, academic, financial, or emotional problems, how you manage your own anxiety about their problem solving ability is very important. The more you worry about them failing, the more you will probably try to help them solve it. The more you help, the more they typically won’t help themselves or may withdrawal from you.
So you can’t prevent your child’s failure or struggle, but you can prevent your resentment and withdrawal from them when you can’t fix their problems. Many times the way to enhance your child’s problem solving ability is to help less.
Ways to be there without having all the answers:
- Ask them what they think will help.
- Let them try their own solutions without rubbing their nose in it when they don’t succeed.
- Be emotionally available when they stumble and struggle without having all the answers or fixing the problem for them.
- Put your worry in a container, so they can find their own way.
- Share when you observe them mastering a new skill even if it’s sporadic.
- Believe in their ability to solve their own problems.
Just like our children, we may stumble and slip. But we can re-learn how to let our children face their fears and solve their problems without getting in the way. In doing so, we allow our children’s wings to get stronger and more colorful.
How do you think about your parenting when it comes to your child or teen’s problem? Where do you need to let go and allow growth?
Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers marriage and family counseling services as well as parent consultation in Independence MO (near Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit). If you want to discern how to be a more confident parent with your child, Schedule a free 15 minute phone consult to determine if she is the best counselor for you and/or your family
Photo Credit: “Broken Butterfly Wing” by Claudio Gennari