When your child needs help, your natural impulse is to answer their call. It's instinctual to want to swoop in, and save your young from duress. But too much swooping and meddling, as many psychologists and parenting experts point out, can make kids feel helpless and incapable of problem solving. This is not to say us parents should just let our kids run wild and hope for the best. Somewhere, there exists a middle ground. Here are a few basic times when it is pretty safe to let your kids figure it out for themselves. Sure, you might internally stress or grow a few grey hairs, but your kids will (more often than not) be OK.
I'm not a helicopter parent so much because I'm not constantly worried when it comes to my children's wellbeing. Plus, letting my kids go to the trouble of figuring things out themselves is usually more time consuming and messier for me. My parenting style is more about what works for me and makes my life easier (most of the time). I'm sure this is a foolish approach to parenting, though, as what is easier now is going to bite me in the you-know-what in the long run, when my over-indulged children grow up to be the kind of men who do not know how to turn on a washing machine or wipe up a spill without first saying, "Mom!"
So, I'm working on some new ways of dealing with stuff. Like, not being so quick to deal with stuff at all and, instead, letting my kids figure it out themselves. Here are some of the things I am playing around with. It is a work in progress.
When They Ask You Something You Know They Know The Answer To
Sometimes kids like to ask questions just to hear you, and themselves, talk. I am convinced my son thinks he'll lose his voice if he stops talking for more than two minutes. This is why, I believe, he talks in his sleep, has night terrors often, and wakes up frequently throughout the night to request things he doesn't really need. If I'm not paying attention, I'll quickly answer his questions without thinking. Still, if I am not distracted by the thousand other things I have to do when we are home together, I try to turn the question back to him and ask him to tell me the answer.
Especially for the really annoying questions. Like today, for example, when he barged into the bathroom where I had been showering. He had been waiting for me to finish showering so I could re-download an app for him on his iPad. "Are you done showering yet?" he asked, as he stared at me rinsing my hair in the shower. I almost instinctively answered him, but I caught myself and said, "Am I done showering?" He had to think about it for a second, and once he said, "No," he started closing the door to the bathroom and said, "OK, tell me when you're done!" It was much better than the back and forth of "When will you be done? How long is five minutes?" kinds of questions I would have been fielded had I answered him from the start.
When They're Stuck In A Tight (But Safe) Situation
This past weekend when we were hanging out in the country, my older son came rushing inside to tell us that his little brother was stuck in a tree. At first, I was envisioning my 2-year-old son up on a tree branch, dangling like a scared kitten. However, when I looked outside, there was my toddler, gingerly trying to navigate his way out from in between some large branches (with his feet still on the ground).
I decided that he was fine and to watch him figure it out on his own. His older brother, meanwhile, continued to flap about and freak out that something terrible was going to happen if I didn't come to his rescue. It took two minutes, and Little Bro was fine. Not even a scratch from an errant branch.
When They Ask You A Question And The Answer Is Well Within Their Reach
I was in my son's kindergarten classroom one morning and his teacher said the most eye-opening thing when one of her students asked a question: "What are the tools that are already in this room that you can use to find the answer?" She encouraged the class to look all around them (the pictures and signs on the walls, the name tags on the chairs and on the tables, the banners by the door) for the answers to their questions. Many of the answers were right there.
So, when my son asks me a question to which the answer is somewhere easily attainable nearby, I ask him to take a look around him. Sure, it would be easier if I just gave him the answer, but in the long run I know it's a valuable lesson to learn to use your own environment and seek clues around you to try to find the answer yourself.
When They Ask For Help With An Age-Appropriate Activity
My son will beg me for a particular toy or art project kind of activity, then swear up and down that if I purchase said thing he will do it all by himself and not ask for help unless he absolutely needs it. Then the thing will come, I will sit with him for the initial walk through, and once he's figured it out he will play with it for 10 minutes quite happily.
After the initial 10 minutes, however, he will begin to whine. "Mom, I need your heeeeellllllp!" He doesn't need my help, though. He just doesn't want to sit and concentrate for however long it takes to do this activity. If I give in, guess who ends up doing the art project solo? Me. Meanwhile, my kid will have disappeared to play something on his iPad. So it is best if I don't get involved in the first place.
When They Refuse To Do The Chore That Has Been Assigned As Theirs And Ask You To Do It This One Time
Since he was 4, it has been my son's job to "make his bed," which entails putting his animals neatly in a row by his pillows and bringing his water bottle down from his loft bed. I could easily do these things when I go up there to actually make his bed (i.e. smooth his blankets out and fluff his pillows), but I read somewhere that I should give my kid a chore at a certain age, so I did (yay, parenting).
Every now and then I realize that we've gone a few days without enforcing the chore, because he's gotten swept up in some new toy or activity in the morning. Or, he's asked me to do it so he can finish something else. Then, the next day, he'll be like, "Can you make my bed again, since you did it yesterday?" and that's when I realize that I've been caught in a trap, laid by a very smart and conniving 5 year old.
When They Say They Can't Do Routine Things They Ordinarily Do For Themselves
My kindergartener knows how to get himself dressed, brush his teeth, and put on his shoes and jacket. Still, every once in a while when he's trying my patience, he claims his fingers aren't working or that he "can't stand up." While I sometimes do miss having a baby, lifting dead weight off of the floor and trying to dress a limp body isn't my idea of a good time.
When They Decide They Want To Redecorate Their Room
My kid loves to "make some changes," every now and then, to his room. This usually means taking things (like his rocking chair) from functional spaces and placing them where they completely block access to things that one would need to get to, like his dresser drawer.
At first, Type A me completely bristled against this idea and would rush to fix everything two minutes after he'd done his rearranging. However, after a few times of him doing this kind of thing, I realized that he is playing around with some normal, healthy self-expression. So what if his room doesn't look like a fancy Pinterest board? I can let him leave his room in whatever way he would like for a few days, then we can put it back into its more reasonable layout afterward and once I've explained that it is just easier for us to get to things when certain items are placed in certain locations.