30 May Problem Solving: To Be Involved, or Not to Be Involved
All I want is a healthy baby; all I want is a happy child. I want my child to be a good person; I want my child to be kind. I want my children to be smart; successful; independent.
I want my child to…fill in the blank. Despite the ‘healthy baby’ anecdote, all parents have hopes and dreams for their children. All parents have dreams; they also have fears. What if my baby gets hurt? What if I make a mistake and mess my child up? What if my child never outgrows this anxiety?
Parenthood is filled with apprehensions, so much so that we have gone from latch-key kids, to helicopter parents, in only a few decades. Many of us were raised in family and social situations, that in this era, may be seen as neglect (playing outside unsupervised), or questionable to say the least (riding bikes without helmets, anyone?). Times were different. We all felt safer. But today, we are fearful; fearful of internet trolls, of bullies at school. Fearful that our child won’t get into the right school or won’t be able to succeed. We are fearful that if they don’t have the right teacher, the right friends, the right grades…we have failed.
We have swung so hard in wanting our children to have it all, and be anything (thanks, Disney Channel), that we are no longer letting our children learn from mistakes, because we fear the mistake so much, we have all but eliminated them. Parents are now seen enabling rather than teaching; teachers are giving participation awards, rather than allowing a child to feel that they did better, or worse than their peers. We are so afraid of our children failing, that parents are now buying test scores, rather than letting their children succeed, or fail on their own.
What happened to letting children learn from mistakes? Letting them grow through problem-solving? Wanting the best for your child is not wrong, but at what cost? Are we denying them the chance to struggle, to grow, to learn, to achieve through hardship? Are we stepping in, when we ought to let them problem-solve?
How did you become the person you are today? Was it through, sweat, toil, mistakes, success, perseverance, heartache, struggles and triumphs? This is how our children will become successful too. I am not suggesting, that parents become absentee, and never help their children. There are many life stages in which parenthood demands we care for our children’s every need; infants require constant supervision, and assistance. They are in fact helpless. But then the toddler years come. Toddlers, are walking, talking, playing and learning. They are not helpless. Soon we are on to another stage; Elementary aged children are learning to navigate social circles, study their spelling words and be part of sports and dance teams. Middle schoolers are learning to navigate the change in class rooms, multiple teachers, MAP testing, fallouts with friends, and preparing for the ever looming: High school. High schoolers are experiencing romance, loss, experimentation, fights with parents, learning to drive, how to ace AP tests, visiting colleges, striving to keep that GPA up; and then, college; careers, marriages, children, moving, loss of loved ones.
Life prepares us for life; problem-solving does not mean it’s easy, yet it prepares us to handle the curve balls life throws. Problem-solving causes our brains to see that there is more than one way to learn, to work in a group, to accomplish the task. Problem-solving leads to a flexible mindset, one that is not stuck in the black and white thinking of life. Problem-solving, is how children become successful adults, and those successful adults come positive, contributing members of society.
When we raise our children in a bubble, they turn into adults, unprepared for life beyond the playground. If you want a child to be strong, bold and able to take risks; let them take risks.
Actor and singer, Kristin Bell, shared some of her insight into raising two young daughters, and her desire to let the learn through problem-solving:
“When my kids, say they can do something, and I know it’s not going to happen, I go, ‘You know what, let me see. Here is the round peg and go to the square hole, and see if it will fit, I’ll wait.”
Bell goes on to share an inspirational quote:
“When you cut it for me, write it for me, open it for me, set it up for me, draw it for me or find it for me, all I learn is that you do it better than me”
We all learn through doing. Being told or corrected is not enough. And when we are allowed to “do it myself”, we fall, pick ourselves up, and try again. We learn how to do things; we learn how not to do things.
Next time you see your child frustrated and struggling, rather than jump in and doing the task for them, try the following
- Watch and wait
- Ask if they would like help
- If yes, show how, and have them do it
Knowing they can do it, breeds confidence. Knowing you will do it for them, breeds learned helplessness.
For guidance on how to put this practice into action, as well as further reading on raising an independent child, check out our other blogs:
North Shore Family Services is a team of skilled and approachable therapists that help parents, children, teens, adults, and couples reduce anxiety and stress, learn effective problem-solving techniques, and manage emotions and behaviors that inhibit personal, school, family, and relationship success. We make therapy a productive, engaging and relaxing place for everyone to work hard and make the improvements they desire. To find the right-fit therapist for you and your family, visit our clinician’s page.