Swoop in and Save
This first response gives up by excusing the child entirely from the situation, making excuses, or removing the frustration for the child. It looks like a parent buying velcro shoes when a child is having difficulty learning to tie shoes or switching a child’s teacher because the child did not get the teacher they wanted. This response says, “school is over” when it becomes too frustrating to learn from home or “you don’t have to do that” when an assignment is too difficult. Parents often respond this way because they are feeling overwhelmed and they see that their child is also feeling stressed. Since it hurts us to see our kids hurting and we don’t want to see them fail, we clear the way.
However, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. While it seems important to allow time and space for children and adults to process their emotions during difficult times, it doesn’t feel right to tell children that when something becomes difficult we stop doing it. Currently, although school may look different, it is important that the routine of school continue in some way. This helps to maintain normalcy, which is beneficial in coping with change.
It is important that our children understand that they can do hard things. When we excuse them from facing their own challenges it unintentionally sends the message, “You can’t do this, let me get you out of it.” If we make excuses or find ways to take the frustration away from the child, we also take away the opportunity for learning. Not only does the child miss out on learning the skill, they also fail to learn the coping skills necessary to persist in spite of stressors and difficulty. If we develop a pattern of reacting this way, we will see our kids shut down, check out, or stop showing up any time that they experience a challenge.
Hover, Micromanage, Takeover
The second response is to take over and attempt to control every aspect of a child’s education. In this response, the parent is hovering, checking, and probably doing most of the work. We do this because we feel out of control or perhaps we are frustrated with the pace or method our child is using to complete a task. However, responding this way leaves us exhausted, and it leaves our kids feeling burned out too. We are working so hard but our kids still seem to lack the energy and resolve to face their own challenges.
This response doesn’t work in the long-term because when kids are micro-managed, they do not have the opportunity to develop the self-regulatory skills that allow them to succeed on their own. If we want our children to become independent, self- sufficient, and self-motivated adults one day, we can not take over their problems. As adults, it is helpful to remember that a task that is easy for us often consists of many learned skills linked together. Therefore, it may be more difficult for a child. We have gained the ability over time to navigate the world in the way that we do. Children, on the other hand, are still developing their skills. Doing a task for a child takes away their opportunity to learn to do it themselves. When we take over, it unintentionally sends the message, “You can’t do this, let me do it.” Our kids learn to look to someone else to solve their problems instead of looking to themselves. When they experience difficulty, they feel helpless and need someone else to provide them with a solution, plan, or checklist.
Bridge the Gap or Provide a Temporary Scaffold of Support
It is impossible to save our children from experiencing pain or stress and it is not our job to do everything for our children. So, what can we do? As parents, we can be the bridge that makes a transition possible or the scaffold that allows growth in spite of difficulty. We can be there with our children, not to save them or attempt to do life for them, but to encourage them as they learn to navigate challenges themselves. We have to show them that their actions lead to outcomes. This is called self-efficacy. Children need to understand that they are not working for grades, bribes, or money.They are working because the work that they are doing helps them to learn and grow and contributes to the betterment of not just them but others (the family or society).
In order to begin to teach self-efficacy and resilience, when things are new and difficult, we need to show our kids how to take small steps towards their larger goals. If your child is feeling overwhelmed, instead of giving up, think about how you can modify what you are doing to make it more doable and less stressful. If you are currently doing most of the work for your child, think about a small task that you can turn over to them and teach them to do themselves. Ask yourself: “What small steps can I support my child in taking today?” Maybe it will be figuring out how to sign into Google Classroom. Maybe it will be looking at the tasks that need to be done and deciding on one task that is manageable to complete today. Maybe it will be sitting with your child while they make a to do list for the day or schedule for the week. And if they fail occasionally, which is inevitable, it also means being there to offer the support and the encouragement necessary to try again. Through our response, we can teach our kids that facing challenges and even occasional failure does not have to be debilitating but instead presents an opportunity for learning and growth.
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Nina Parrish, M. Ed.
Co-Owner and Director of Education
Proud mom of two adorable girls. Teacher who has developed an education business that started at a kitchen table and has grown into a thriving small business... Click here to Learn more about Nina.
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