Perhaps one of the most annoying things about other peoples’ children’ is witnessing what can be referred to as ‘learned helplessness.’
You know the kind. You invite a playmate over for a few hours and realize that the child is completely helpless and is constantly asking you for help when they should be playing with their friend. Can you tie my shoe, can you get me a drink, can you turn the light on, will you help me with this puzzle? You quickly appreciate your own child’s independence, and make a mental note NOT to invite this child over again. And this makes no mention of the fact that ‘learned helpless’ children are often the worlds biggest tattle tales eliciting the help of adults to solve even the most mundane of woes and troubles.
The most evident example of your parenting shines through your children’s behavior. This is especially true with young children. If after a few hours with your kid you are completely exhausted then here is a bit of advice. STOP DOING EVERYTHING FOR YOUR CHILD! Chances are their state of constant neediness is learned; taught and encouraged by YOU!
The truth is that by a certain age, your child is able to do many things for themselves. Even a two year old is competent enough to throw their own trash away, put their sippy cup in the sink, pick up their toys off the playroom floor. A three year old should be able to put on his or her own shirt and pants, and should be able to brush their teeth and feed themselves. Four and five year olds, of normal mental capacity should be able to handle the vast majority of tasks to get through their day. Put it this way, if your kindergarten student can easily navigate your smart phone then they should be able to find their own shoes and pick up their room.
One very common parenting mistake is doing too many things for your child. Yes, sometimes especially when you are in a hurry or need something done quickly, it is easier to just take charge and do something yourself. But constantly catering to every whim, whistle and hiccup that your child faces in a day creates a completely dependant child, who will have tremendous difficulty in the real world.
Your child’s teacher is not going to bend like a willow tree every time your child feels helpless. The truth is that most people in your child’s life will not treat them with kit gloves or exasperate the needy baby stage. And you shouldn’t either.
Experts believe that one of the reasons parents do everything for their child is because they are satisfying their personal emotional needs through their child. For instance, the mother that feels guilty for working, or the father who feels guilty for traveling or the parent who has a innate desire to feel needed will clutch to the idea of being ‘everything’ for their child. These parents create co-dependency in an effort to support their own fears or needs. And sadly, this is no way to empower a child.
Children need to feel capable. If you are always jumping in and doing everything for your child, whether they illicit the help or not, you are making your child feel inadequate. As they get older, they will constantly suffer from feelings that they are not capable or able to handle things on their own, and they will always be looking to you for guidance. The result is a teenager who cannot function socially or otherwise, unless their parents are there to reinforce their tasks. The results are elementary students who feel frustrated and unsuccessful at school because they have spent their entire lives being taught, although subtly, that they are unable.
As parents, especially seeing our children grow up an AWAY from us, it is easy and fairly natural to over function for our children. As mentioned before, sometimes it is just easier for you to finish the puzzle rather than watch your child struggle with it. And sometimes over doing is simply a way to relieve yourself of your own negative perceptions of your parenting. Some parents do this because they feel their own parents were inadequate and live among a shadow of trying to ‘do more’ and ‘be more.’ And even more common is the notion that if you don’t do as much as possible for your child, your child will not like you.
No matter why you do it, the raw truth is that it is not healthy for the development of your child. It does nothing to serve their needs in life. Realize that your child will spend innumerous hours away from you, and there are things in life that they need to be able to do. Children should not be tethered to constantly needing their parent’s assistance, attention, and approval. In fact, children should take pride in their independence and parents should encourage kids to do things for themselves, even if they don’t do it in what you consider is the ‘right way.’
Not only will your child go further in life and succeed on their own recognizance more often, but by fostering independence you will ensure that they get invited to more play dates and give them an opportunity to be ‘the teachers pet!’