Recently, I was watching my 2-year-old try to eat a bowl of oatmeal on his own (quite unsuccessfully, I might add). For some reason, the only way he would allow the spoon to enter his mouth was upside down, and when I tried to turn it right side up, he went ballistic. So I sat there watching him desperately scoop up oatmeal bites and slowly bring them up to his mouth while each bite fell to the floor (or on him) just before hitting his mouth. It was one of those parenting moments that’s sad but also kind of hilarious — like when they give themselves their first haircut; or when they want to show everybody that “boo-boo” on their middle finger.
Knowing when to help them and when to not is what we’re talking about here (and you’d be surprised how much it should be the latter). It’s a scary concept. As parents, we want to see our kids succeed in everything they do — whether it’s acing their science homework, making the varsity softball team or simply making a sandwich without smearing peanut butter and jelly all over the kitchen.
I get it. Watching our children fail is one of the hardest things we have to do. It makes us feel helpless. We worry about everything from their self-esteem and social development to their future success. We start out doing EVERYTHING for them. All they had to do was eat, sleep and poop — we handled the rest. But it’s different now. They get older and you constantly find yourself wanting to assist them in everything they do. You find yourself asking, “is this best for them, or will this just hold them back?”
To learn self-sufficiency, kids need to occasionally dust themselves off (literally and figuratively) without your help. “Most parents know what their children are capable of but step in to make things easier for them,” says Sheri Noga, the author of Have the Guts to Do It Right: Raising Grateful and Responsible Children in an Era of Indulgence.
Failure is an opportunity for growth. Remember, long-term benefits — a teenager who knows how to do their own laundry, for example — trump momentary discomfort. Before you rush in to help with any physical task, ask yourself, “Is my child in real danger?” Then — and this applies to other challenges, like the social studies poster due tomorrow — think about whether your child has the necessary skills (dexterity and balance) or simply adequate sleep and a snack. Yes? Time to back off and see what happens.
As for me, I think I can handle cleaning up a few dropped oatmeal bites until he figures it out.