Step Away from the Helicopter, Parent: How to Build Skills, Resilience and Confidence in your Children

Parents mean the best. We try to do the right thing. We try hard to help our kids. Today’s parents are doing more and more for their children. Sometimes children need space to do their own thing. It turns out that sometimes less is more.

How can too much help and support be a bad thing?

You might be an over-supporter if you are quick to do things for your child that they could likely do themselves. If you find yourself answering questions for your children that they could answer themselves or if you frequently and automatically give help, hints or advice without being asked. It might feel like the right thing to do, but it could be doing more harm than good.

Can I ask you a few questions?

  • Do you rush to fix problems for your children in hopes that they will feel better, or so that they will just calm down?
  • Do you have a hard time seeing your child struggling and becoming frustrated?
  • Do you feel yourself getting worked up when your child does?
  • Do you pave the way for you child anticipating difficulties and ensuring “smooth” experiences?

If so, you might be an over-supporter.

Helping with an aim to empower is good, but over-supporting does not allow our children to struggle with and overcome problems…a critical life skill.

There is a risk. Kids who are over-supported will end up lacking confidence, problem solving skills, and resilience. Instead of learning healthy strategies to deal with challenging life situations, these children will doubt themselves and rely on others. They may even learn strategies to try to get others to do things for them.

Just so you know, what I’m talking about is not about abandoning or being harsh with our children. Love and connection is the most important thing as far as I am concerned. However, once a solid base of love and connection is present, empowerment is the next step.

Counter to the intended effect, children who were helped too much end up having a harder go at life. Adult life ends up being more of a struggle, not easier. Work and relationships are harder to maintain as these people have a harder time handling stress, they lack accountability and look to others to fix things when things go wrong. As a parent you might end up dealing with the over-supported child well into their adulthood as they have learned that they cannot rely on themselves. Do yourself a favor now, start thinking about empowerment.

So, what can you do?
💥Don’t continually do things for your child that he or she is capable of doing. (wiping their face, washing their hands, feeding them, putting on their clothes, doing their homework).
💥Be on the look out for how you can remove yourself from the equation, delegate, and help them learn new skills. This can be done from a young age in age appropriate ways by breaking skills down into smaller parts.
💥Skills and habits can take a while to learn. Somedays will be better than others. Stay positive and consistent. Being judgmental and inconsistent will hurt the skill/habit forming process. Stick with it. Skill building and parenting is a long game.
💥Scaffold skills and tasks by starting small. Build capacity in your kids by helping them get started and then stepping back. You may need to continue to do this as the skills increase in difficulty.
💥Believe in your child. Believe that they can and will learn to do things for themselves. Be encouraging. Tell them they can do it, tell them you believe in them.
💥Give your child real responsibility, real jobs, real tasks. Create some accountability at home, for you and your kids. Everyone is part of the family and everyone has jobs.
💥Let them do it their way, especially at the beginning. Let go of perfection. As your child starts to take over more, things will not be perfect. That’s okay. They have not had as much practice. Back off! Bite your tongue. Focus on effort and celebrate these early small efforts as wins. This will make your child WANT to continue doing it.
💥Instead of over praising, keep the focus on the child and what they have done. For example, “You cleaned up your room, you did it. Thank you. How do you feel?”
💥For children who might be sensitive to judgement, help your child reflect upon the process…rather than telling them how they could have done better. This also helps children begin to assess their own work and take ownership of it.
💥Help your child create a plan of how he or she would like to do something. This builds buy-in and engagement. For young kids, having them create visual checklist can be fun and engaging. You can stick this to the wall as a reminder.
💥Adopt a growth mindset. Every mistake, every failed attempt is an opportunity to learn…and to take responsibility. Let them fail. Don’t rescue. Be there to support after the failure and help them reflect and plan for next time.
💥Show your human side. Normalize mistakes. Talk about how you too make mistakes.
💥Help your child learn to advocate and speak up for him/herself. If they don’t understand something or need a bit of help, teach them to ask for the specific help that they need. This will help them not to get overwhelmed.
For a child who has been over-supported in the past, she may equate your level as support as the amount of love you have for her. As such, asking her to take on new responsibilities may suddenly feel like under-support and a withdrawal of love for her, rather than the empowerment you are trying to facilitate. It may garner some power struggles, emotional responses and resistance. Make sure this child knows she is loved, fill her tank…but also be consistent in the skill building and your belief in her that she can do it.
Let me know how this goes.
In Truth and Love,
Drew

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