The day our children are born is quite possibly one of the happiest days of our lives. We vow to protect them and keep them safe at all costs. But sometimes, our efforts actually backfire and hold our children back from growing into independent people. Teaching kids how to be self-sufficient is incredibly important, but it's also a huge challenge for many.
I've been a parent for 18+ years, and I'll admit I sometimes struggle with wanting to do too much for my kids. Yet, I've been an educator for 25 years, and I know it's incredibly important for parents to let go and teach kids how to be self-sufficient. When students can't, won't, or don't know how to do things on their own, they struggle. For some, they begin to have trouble with simple things, like day-to-day tasks. For others, it can lead to stress and anxiety and even have a long-term impact on their lives. It seems unreal to think overly helpful parenting can negatively impact our kids, but it really can. Teachers and educators are often the ones who see this the most, and it can have a real impact on their ability to do their jobs.
I reached out to my fellow teachers (and parents) to help identify some of the things we see most often when it comes to parents doing too much for their kids. May we all become more aware of these so our kids can learn self-advocacy and grow up to be independent, successful adults.
This happens across all age groups. While you stepping in on homework assignments might get them credit and even a good grade for the assignment, students won't learn and retain the information. Students need to figure things out on their own, which means they need to decipher what is difficult and what may need more attention. It's okay for homework to be challenging. Yes, they can ask you a question, or you might steer them in the right direction. But if they are having trouble, have them reach out to their teacher directly.
Social media comes with a host of dangers that we too often forget, and much of it carries over into school. This makes children anxious and uncomfortable during the day, which interrupts learning. For more on the topic of social media and anxiety, check out this article.
We teachers see this far too often. Parents want to step in and interfere with disagreements or arguments that are pretty petty. Don't get involved. Use these as an opportunity to teach your child the skills necessary to cope with these differences among each other and to effectively speak up for themselves, both of which are essential in teaching kids how to be self-sufficient.
Sure, you can help prepare a lunch or remind them of items they need for the day, but then get them involved. Include them in the choice and packing process. Children as young as kindergarten are capable of being a helper, which increases their confidence long term.
A cell phone requires a great deal of responsibility that a young child may not be capable of handling. Plus, they don't really need it. If they are in school, there are ample ways for them to contact you in an emergency. This provides them with the opportunity to figure out possible solutions to contact you on their own. Relying on immediate attention from a very young age teaches children to lose patience when they are not immediately gratified.
I can recall a time when my daughter was 3 or 4 years old and her favorite phrase was “Mommy, I do myself!" I celebrated her desire for independence and helped her to do it by herself. This has resulted in a very independent and confident young woman who is now going off to college. Children from a very young age have the desire to “do what you are doing” in an effort to assert their independence. So let's not forget these as they get older. Let's teach them how to be self-sufficient by allowing them to take on age-appropriate tasks and challenges so they can keep developing. Even when we find ourselves wanting to hold on tighter as they're getting older, we still need to let them try things.
This teaches children that if they don’t like something, we can change it or they don’t have to do it. It also gives kids an unrealistic view of the world. We all experience things that we don't like or want to do, but understanding the reality that we have to do it helps us to get through without issue.
Want an easy way to teach kids how to be self-sufficient? Allow them to advocate for themselves. It can be as simple as letting kids order for themselves at a restaurant or emailing their teacher first when they have a question or concern. Not only does this teach them effective communication, but it also empowers them to make a choice and speak for themselves. Also, don’t ask the teacher to make an exception and accept late assignments (unless there is a really serious reason). This behavior does not teach a child the importance of deadlines.
This builds on the last one, but we teachers beg you to stop contacting the principal, department chair, superintendent, or school board over something that should have been brought to the teacher's attention first. Teachers need you to make them part of the equation. If possible, the conversation should start with your child. You can step in, as needed, as a parent. But please start with the teacher first.
This is the last one related to communication between you, your child, and their teacher. Please give your child an opportunity to communicate with the teacher themselves and have them develop the confidence to know that they can solve a problem or question on their own. Also, before writing an email to your child’s teacher, have the child proofread it. I have found more often than not that a student has no idea that the parent even reached out to a teacher, and it is important for them to be an integral part of the process.
Kids need to be independent. When they ask to do things on their own but you don't let them, it makes them feel like you're not confident in them. In turn, this makes them lesslikely to attempt anything that appears remotely challenging. For example, I had a middle school student ask to do her own laundry, and her parents told her, “No, you are going to ruin it.” She felt so defeated and unsupported by her parents, and stopped being confident in her ability to grow.
As parents, we often say "everything will be all right" and "I will take care of it." Don't get in the habit of doing things for them. Instead, to teach them how to be self-sufficient, discuss the situation and teach them how to make the situation improve and to cope healthfully if something doesn’t go as they planned. Also, teach them how to do things by themselves. Sure. This takes more time, and so many of us are overscheduled, but teaching them once will save you time and energy in the future.
Mistakes are amazing tools from which we all learn. Help them to figure out, on their own, what they did wrong and what they need to do differently in the future to avoid this mistake again.
Teach kids the importance of budgeting and saving. Whether they have a formal job or not, all kids need to learn the importance of saving and spending. This will serve them well in the future.
Don’t lose sight of the parent role and try to be their friend. I remember my parents telling me as a teenager that “If I liked them, they were doing their job wrong." I don’t necessarily agree with this, but something is to be said for making rules and enforcing them. This helps to keep our kids safe, encourages them to make the healthiest choices, and teaches them how to be self-sufficient.
Celebrate your child's differences and individual strengths. Also, try not to compare them to you. At times, this gives them the defeating idea that they cannot live up to your expectations and, ultimately, they are different from us. We need to accept and respect that.
A child’s perspective is often based on emotion and not a clear depiction of what actually occurred. Understanding this can build a strong relationship between you and your child’s teacher.
Overreliance on technology prohibits kids the opportunity to problem solve, delay gratification, and communicate effectively, which are essential for school, the workplace, relationships, and life in general.
Don’t always say “great job” without letting them know specifically what they did that was so great so they can keep doing it. Instead of “great job in school,” try, “I really see that you are working hard to improve your math skills.” And if it's not something that needs praise, don't give it to them. Earning the praise and kudos is worth the effort.
It can start as early as kindergarten—buying your child Velcro shoes so they don't have to learn how to tie shoestrings. It seems like a simple, harmless fix, but when you stop kids from developing basic skills, it can transfer over to make other areas.
Don’t catastrophize everything. Making a big deal of small disappointments increases anxiety and hinders them from learning how to cope effectively with disappointments. Please don’t make problems or issues seem bigger than they are. This prohibits them from taking the initiative to try and solve the problem on their own. For example, one failing test grade does not harm your child’s chances of having a successful future.
At the end of the day, I really believe that capability builds confidence. When our children are confident in their individual capabilities, they can weather every storm that comes their way, in school and out.
The more we encourage them to partake in independent tasks at school and home, the more confident and capable they will become. Children need to learn how to be self-sufficient and healthfully cope with setbacks and disappointments. Being confident is the first step to succeeding at this and life in general. So let's do our part to help them achieve this by taking a step back and allowing them to prosper in both the best and worst of times.