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Navigating Life's Journey Blog

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Preventing Helplessness in Children

by Ashley Henderson - June 19, 2017

Infants are born helpless and we are willing to help, so we become accustomed to doing things for them. But then, as children grow, how do we know if we have slipped into doing too much, doing things for them that they should be doing for themselves?

Sometimes children tell us when we have done that.  Instead of saying, Do it myself, they say, You do it.  Do it for me.  I don't know how.  Later they say, I'm tired.  I'm busy.  I don't want to.  That's not fun.  Have my sister do it.  It's not my job.  I can't.  Why me?  My stomach hurts.  I didn't hear you.  If we get these I'm helpless responses on a regular basis, it's time to figure out if we have been doing too much.

If we feel confused about when to help and when to stand back, there are questions we can ask. 

About the child:
  • Does the child know how and is capable of doing this task?
  • Is the child well/getting enough sleep?
  • If his stomach hurts, is the child physically ill?
  • Is the hassle about the chore or the homework, or is it about the child's need for more connection with the adult?
About self:
  • Do I criticize or argue about how he/she is doing something?
  • Do I regularly give in?
  • Am I making threats that I'm not going to carry out?
  • Does another family member interfere and rescue the child?
  • Do I frequently do things for this child that he should do for himself because I'm in a hurry or want it done in a certain way?
  • Am I doing this because I like to feel needed?
These questions can give us a clue about how we can change what we do in order to let our children build competence instead of helplessness.
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Infographic containing information from article
Adapted from the work of Jean Illsley Clarke