School is back in session! I was racking my brain about the best topic to cover to help us all start the year off right, when Mr. Hahn gave me a moment of inspiration (I was listening, Mr. Hahn!). At the welcome breakfast for parents he shared an analogy about how parenting is like an amusement park ride. Sometimes as parents we should be on the ride with our children, but at other times it is better for us to be waiting for our children as they are getting off the ride. The story immediately made me think of a very important rule of thumb I teach all the parents who attend my groups: “Don’t do for your children that which they can do for themselves.”
Even with the best intentions, we parents have a tendency to get in our children’s way. Sometimes it’s because we are in a hurry or because we know we can do things more efficiently than our children. How many of us have tied shoes for WAY longer than we should have (guilty!) or carried in the somewhat large pre-school bags? Sometimes it’s because we don’t realize what our children are capable of. Did you know that with a little initial guidance and creative planning your kids can pack their own lunches for school starting in Kindergarten? Sometimes it is because it hurts us to see our children fall down and get hurt. We don’t like to see our child upset because he forgot his homework or his iPad and he is scared to tell his teacher.
There are several problems that arise when we do for our children what they should be doing for themselves. First, we rob them of the opportunity to build confidence in their own abilities. They become dependent on us. Second, we rob them of the knowledge that they are responsible for themselves. I once had a mom I worked with who was so frustrated because she had to go home and get her daughter’s glasses EVERY DAY. She wondered when her daughter would take responsibility for remembering her glasses. Well, it happened the moment the mom stopped taking on the responsibility herself. Finally, and worst of all, we accidentally communicate to our children that we don’t think they are capable. When we say, “Let me do that, Honey” our kids can actually hear, “I don’t think you can do that, Honey.” Letting our children struggle and try, fall down and pick themselves up actually builds confidence. They learn they are capable and become more willing to take risks.
So does that mean you are supposed to hand everything over to your children, sit back and do nothing? Of course not! We may not always be on the ride, but we are still at the amusement park. Our children need us to be there to provide encouragement and support. We can help dust them off when they fall and share ideas about how to try again in a different way. And there are plenty of responsibilities they are not ready for yet. The key is knowing when to help and when to let go. This school year is bound to be filled to the brim with many exciting rides. Take a moment to think about which rides to get on and which ones it’s time to just watch. For me, I think, my 1st grader and I are going to spend some time this weekend with those shoe laces…