When Children Learn to be Helpless
You are a good parent so you want to meet the needs of your child. If the child needs help putting on or taking off his/her coat, you want to be right there to help. If the child forgets something at school, you want to help the child by going back to school to pick up the forgotten item. If the child forgets their lunch money, you leave work and come to school to drop it off.
These are all nice things to do for your child and your intentions are good, however, the following is a list of things you may be teaching your child when you frequently come to their rescue:
1. I must not be capable enough to do these things by myself.
2. I do not have to be responsible and remember things because, if I forget them, my parents will always come through for me and help me out. Of course, someday if they are not available, I don’t know what I’m going to do!
3. If my parents do everything for me, then my teacher will, too - even though she/he has 20 other children for which they are responsible.
4. I don’t have to have chores or clean up my things because my parents will always be around doing these things for me and if they aren’t, then my teacher will or my husband/wife will when I grow up.
5. If I forget my lunch, I won’t ever have to face the consequences and have a cheese sandwich made by the cafeteria ladies because my parents will always be around to bring me my lunch.
6. I don’t know what it’s like to fail at something and have to face the consequences or get myself out of a bind because my parents always do that for me.
Children learn to be responsible and self-sufficient by how they are treated by the adults in their lives. The following are ways to help your child become an independent, responsible, self-confidant, self-sufficient person:
1. Set a goal for your child. Together, figure out the steps to reach the goal. Encourage the child to follow the steps, but do not nag, pester, or constantly remind the child to follow the steps. If the child reaches the goal, praise him/her. If the child does not reach the goal, have the child experience the consequences associated with the goal, i.e. the book report was not completed so the child faces the teachers’ consequences such as no recess or a bad grade (remember, the child is not trying to get into a college – it is elementary school and the lesson of consequences is much more important than the book report grade!!)
2. When your child is trying to put on his/her coat or do a task, tell them you know they can do it. You can even talk them through the process without actually helping. Praise them for being independent when they complete the task successfully.
3. Praise them for being independent when they complete any task by themselves. Talk to other adults about their successes i.e. call grandma and tell her what a grown-up young man he was today because he did something all by himself. Make sure the child is in “ear-shot”. This is a very good trick to build confidence. Imagine how it would feel if you overheard your boss telling someone how great you are at your job.
4. If they do something, do not redo what they have done to make it better or more perfect. Praise them for simply completing the task.
5. If the child has to eat a cheese sandwich or a small snack at school for lunch because he/she forgot their lunch, it may make them remember to think before they leave the house the next morning. Being a little hungry will not damage your child, but will teach him/her to remember important things that meet their own needs.
6. Help your child learn to problem-solve. If they cannot find a pencil say, “What can you do to solve that problem?” If they spill water say, “You know what to do.” If they need help with something, teach them to say, “Mom, can you help me with this?” instead of crying, whining, getting frustrated and throwing a tantrum.
Children will rise to the occasion if they are EMPOWERED to do so. If they are expected to be responsible and take care of their needs, they will, once they are taught how to be independent.
A sense of independence is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child.
If you have any questions about teaching responsibility at home or if there is anything I can do to help your child become more successful at school, please do not hesitate to contact me at 440-995-7270 at Millridge/MCHI or 440-995-7370 at Lander.
Rebecca C. Schmidt, M.Ed., LSW