It’s only natural. Pure parental instinct. Your child has a problem and you want to fix it. But fixing their problems isn’t always the most sage course of action. In fact, in our rush to make everything better, we sometimes do more harm than good.
- We send the message that our child is incapable of handling the issue himself. Children sometimes mistake our efforts to fix their problems with an effort to fix them. They form the (faulty) belief that the world is full of problems that they are incapable of handling. The godfather of democratic parenting, Rudolf Dreikurs, once said that you discourage a child any time you do for him what he is capable of doing for himself.
- We rob the child of a valuable opportunity to learn and grow. Sure, he may not handle his issue “right” (read: the way you would). Hell, he may even make matters worse! But we acquire skills by trying, and trying again. Working out how to deal with a bossy friend, or a rude teacher, is practice for dealing with difficult in-laws, or unreasonable employees later in life. Just as your child doesn’t learn about geography if you do his diorama for him, he doesn’t gain essential life skills if you continually handle difficulties for him.
- You deny the child an opportunity to show you what she’s capable of. Kids live in a world in which almost everyone is superior to them—bigger, faster, stronger, more experienced. As a result, they spend most of their days being directed and corrected. Teachers, parents, grandparents and older siblings all love to tell them what to do. They rarely have an opportunity to share their learning and show off their own accomplishments.
Read more: Parenting: I do too much for my kids>
- Back off. Stop flexing the “fix-it” muscle. Just listen. Really hear your child’s version of events. This is an opportunity to gain real insight into his world.
- Express empathy and also faith in your child’s ability to face challenges. (“That sounds rough. What a frustrating situation. If anyone can handle this, though, you can.”)
- Ask questions. (How do you feel about that? What might you do about it? Want to brainstorm some solutions with me?)
- Offer encouragement—especially by remembering some of their past triumphs. Kids forget their history. Parents don’t. (“Remember that time, in kindergarten, when you were left out of the hide-and-seek game? Remember how you stood up to that kid who told you that you couldn’t play?”)
- Appreciate and celebrate all effortstoward independence—even when they don’t yield momentous results. We build courage and resilience in baby steps. There isn’t always a blaring of trumpets or the sound of birds singing. (Although sometimes there is!) Any movement towards the autonomous resolution of problems is something worth celebrating—it symbolizes growth, confidence, courage and capability.