One of the hardest tasks of parenthood is knowing when you should and shouldn’t intervene on your child’s behalf. For me, the hand wringing started with my children learning to walk. I hated to see them fall. I wanted to scoop them up every time and hold them by the hand until they were perfectly steady.
I spent a lot of time at the beach, ensuring soft landings when I did let go.
As we all know, there is no learning to walk without falling down. But when do you hang on and when do you let go?
I chatted with my kids, some of whom are now teens, about the sorts of mom situations that moms should probably back away from. Even if it is your first instinct to rush to the rescue, don’t. How are your kids going to learn if you don’t let them handle the risks, and consequences? I know. It’s hard!
1. The Homework Situation
You’re in the driveway when your kid smacks his forehead. They forgot to do their homework! “Please please please let me stay home today!” they beg. Or worse – they ask you to do the homework for them. It’s tempting. You know your kid knows the stuff but can’t get it done in five minutes, like you can. What’s the big deal if you feed him/her the answers just this once?
Don’t do it! Experiencing the consequences of our actions is how we all learn to be more responsible. Next time, they won’t forget to do their homework… hopefully.
2. The Restaurant Situation
I know it comes natural to order for your child when you are dining out. They don’t order quickly, they are indecisive and they’ve never heard of French Dressing. You just want your food already. But other than to give them a gentle reminder to make eye contact and say thank you, don’t intervene and order for your child. For many young children, who are not used to speaking to non family adults, this is an empowering and important skill. It’s important for kids to learn to express their own desires and communicate comfortably with others in a safe environment such as dining out with family.
3. The Rude Friend Situation
You’re hosting a play date and you notice your child’s friend is being rude to them. You instinctively want to give that kid a talking to, call their mom and end the play date then and there. Don’t. Observe how your kid deals with the situation. Redirect their activities if possible (snack time!), and only end the play date if your child asks for your help and/or the other child is physically threatening or genuinely abusive. After the other child has gone home, use the opportunity to talk to your child about how they felt and what they might have done differently if they were upset. Oftentimes we are more upset by the situation than our kids are. Regardless, by letting your kids work it out themselves, you are giving them the gift of building relationship skills.
4. The Cool Kids Club Situation
Your kid demands to wear a crazy outfit, because it’s what their friends are wearing. It’s totally weird looking, and not flattering and it kind of makes YOU embarrassed to be seen with them. Stuff it. Unless it’s against your religion, school rules or going to get someone arrested for indecency, just let it go. Kids like to push limits with adults by exploring fashion don’ts. Dressing alike is a powerful way that kids identify with one another, plus it’s fun. If you REALLY want them to stop, just wear the same thing as them.
5. The Party Planning
The other day I asked my teenaged daughter what she wanted to do for her birthday. She grunted. I started rattling off a bunch of amazing party themes and cataloging her friends who I thought would love each party idea I was having. She groaned. “Back off Mom! I can figure out my own party. I just want to hang out with my friends. I don’t want a theme.” Message received. Sometimes in our exuberance to plan something special for our kids, we ignore… our kids. My daughter really doesn’t want a big fuss. Darn it.
Sometimes however, our kids need us to intervene! It’s important to recognize those times when our kids absolutely need a parent to get involved.
1. When they are being bullied by a peer or a teacher. Do not hesitate to address this sort of situation before it snowballs.
2. When they are being exposed to difficult/inappropriate information that is outside the scope of their ability to cope – this could range from a birds and bees talk from a friend’s older sib or another kid introducing a violent video game. Step in, establish and reinforce boundaries!
3. When they are having a tough time with schoolwork and don’t know who or how to ask for help. Model the solution for them, with them!
4. When their health or safety is at risk of being compromised in any way. Safety is always a priority.
5. When the problem is not one they could reasonably solve on their own. Kids needs their parents. Not everything comes as naturally as walking, and even with walking, you probably spent a lot of time holding their hands before they took off. Sometimes, we can all use a hand!