Hey mom, wake-up, I need your help

Recently my five-year-old pulled me through the door to the gym with extra enthusiasm, anticipating our ritual of climbing the rock wall. While waiting our turn, I noticed a girl of about 10 who was struggling to climb onto the first step. When I looked a little closer, I realized she was blind (and, I learned later, mildly autistic) and trying to feel her way up the wall.

I looked around for the girl’s parents, wondering why they weren’t helping her.  Then I realized I’d been chatting with her grandmother who’d said not a word to the girl.  Instead, she let her struggle along without any assistance or encouragement, and before long she’d reached the top of the most difficult wall.  Only then did she start celebrating her granddaughter’s success.  It was an incredible accomplishment, one that likely wouldn’t have happened had she intervened or, worse yet, not let her try at all.

Later, I reflected on how easy it can be for parents to fall into the trap of rescuing our kids.  After all, we want our kids to succeed rather than letting them fail.  Maybe we see our toddlers bickering in the park, and we step-in, rather than letting them solve their problems on their own.  Or maybe we coerce our colleagues into buying Girl Scout cookies for our daughters, who claim to be too busy to sell them.  Or maybe we get our kids out of detention for being late to school by calling and saying it was our fault.

This impulse to help is particularly strong when it comes to academics.  As much as we want our kids to do their work on their own, it’s difficult when we notice our child’s friend walking into school with an unusually attractive, detailed, and sophisticated science project, that likely could have only been done with the assistance of his artist father and rocket scientist mother.  Sure, you could talk to your son’s teacher or school administrator, but do you really want to?  Instead you could give your son some extra help on his next essay.  So what if he doesn’t know what “superfluous,” “exponential,” and “tangential” mean?  You’ve simply leveled the playing field.

Therein lies the parenting dilemma:  better grades often mean better colleges, which can translate to a faster career start and higher earnings.  At the same time, giving this extra help reinforces a “win at all costs” mentality.  It also robs our children of the opportunity to work harder when their grades aren’t what they want and the satisfaction they deserve from knowing that their grade accurately reflects their efforts.

Rather than being faced with dilemmas over how much help is too much help, be proactive and help your teen develop basic skills that will support their own success.  Teach her to be organized by writing down all her assignments, and encourage her to connect with the school site (e.g. Zangle) to confirm her assignments when she’s unsure.  Check the site from time-to-time, in order to confirm that he’s being up-front about how he’s doing.  Stay aware of big projects and help him organize his time, so he doesn’t wait to the last minute to get started.  Offer to help if she asks for it, but don’t wade in and rescue her by doing it for her.  Encourage him to ask his teachers for help, and help him get additional assistance (e.g. tutoring) when appropriate. Finally, take advantage of opportunities to communicate with teachers, so you’re better able to guide your child.  These tips certainly won’t guarantee success, but they’ll help teach your child valuable lessons and allow you to sleep a bit more soundly.


9 Responses to Hey mom, wake-up, I need your help
  1. elizabeth
    January 5, 2013 | 7:56 pm

    Really interesting article. It’s quite difficult for a parent to allow a child to make mistakes, but tough love is necessary for some circumstances. My reaction is that the grandmother could have been a little more encouraging.

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      January 7, 2013 | 5:51 am

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that her grandmother could have been a bit more encouraging while she climbed, without affecting the overall importance of her achievement.

  2. Jennifer Olden
    January 7, 2013 | 11:14 pm

    I’ve read that this rescuing tendency is our generation’s parenting blind spot. We know so much about attachment and supporting our kids that the other side of the coin is sometimes missed. Which is to let our kids dare greatly on their own and fight a David and Goliath style battle and sometimes WIN and sometimes, of course, loose and then to be there for the disappointment and heartache. But oh lord, it’s so hard to not rescue my kids.

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      January 8, 2013 | 1:12 am

      Thanks Jennifer for your response. I’m particularly interested in what you’ve mentioned about our generation’s blind spot. I think this fear of disappointment and heartache (or even worse) can be so difficult to keep under control.

  3. Nina White
    January 8, 2013 | 2:52 pm

    Thank You, sounds like basic strategies for teaching our children life’s lessons. What a solid foundation and an awesome grandmother, what faith!

  4. Elva Anson
    January 9, 2013 | 5:38 pm

    This is so important,Steve. I have written a book titled, “How to Get Kids to Help at Home” to help parents learn how to teach children responsibility and organizational skills. I like your post so much I would like to use it on my parenting blog at http://www.family1stbooks.com. Would you give me permission to do that?
    Elva Anson recently posted..CHRISTMAS 2012My Profile

  5. Lynette
    January 23, 2013 | 1:36 am

    Thanks for the thoughts. I too believe in letting kids take responsibility for their work, while we as parents need to know and support and step in only when they genuinely need the help. Having said this , I must admit that it is a very fine line and it is tough for parents to stay back and watch their kids ‘fall’ sometimes.

  6. Bernard Droz
    January 25, 2013 | 10:02 am

    It’s articles like these that makes me visit your blog repeatedly. I always know that I can find someting readworthy while i click around. All the best!

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