The quote “Never do for a child what he can do for himself” is one of my favorites to teach parents, because it’s so easy to fall into the habit of doing everything for kids thinking it’s helping them when the “help” is actually doing more harm than good. One of my favorite examples of this is in Cloud and Townsend’s book “Boundaries with Children”. One of the authors told a story of having a friend visit him. During the visit, the two friends went into the author’s teenaged son’s room where the author began to clean- making the bed, folding clothes. The friend stood there looking stunned and when the author noticed the friend’s facial expression he asked the friend what was wrong. The friend replied “Nothing. I just feel sorry for your son’s future wife.” The author was so embarrassed he left the room, but later returned and thanked the friend for reminding him that he was actually hurting his son and not helping him. He was stealing from his son the opportunity to learn necessary life skills along with a sense of responsibility.
Take an inventory of things you might be doing now that are age-appropriate tasks your child could be doing for himself. To get you started, here are some things you should stop doing for your children right now.
Doing their chores
Even kids as young as two or three years old are old enough for chores. Some very basic chores for the very young are picking up toys, sweeping the floor, and light laundry tasks like putting clothes into the hamper, taking clothes out of the dryer, and putting clothes into the washing machine. Kids this young are also capable of putting their dirty dishes in the sink and throwing away their trash. Older kids can begin to take on more responsibility like pet care responsibilities and dusting.
Getting Them Ready in the Mornings
By preschool, kids are old enough to pick out their own clothes, get dressed, wash their faces, brush their teeth, and maybe even comb or brush their own hair. To make this easier, parents can gather clothes and supplies into a container and put it within kids’ reach on low counters, in low drawers, or in closets.
Preparing their Food
Cooking with heat should be done with adult supervision, but kids can learn to pour their own cereal and milk in the morning (you can put kid-sized portions in lidded bowls or cups to help them pour). They can also make sandwiches and pack lunches. Children too young to help with the actual cooking can still contribute by helping to set the table.
Resolving their Conflicts and Solving their Problems
Parents are often so uncomfortable with conflict themselves that they jump in at the first sign of conflict between their children. Instead of intervening immediately, wait to give kids a chance to resolve the conflict themselves. If they need help after a few minutes, instead of deciding on the resolution, guide the kids towards a resolution by using language like “This is a problem. What do you think you can do to solve the problem?” or “You hurt Sally’s feelings. What do you think you could say?” With practice, you will hear kids resolve their own conflicts by apologizing or offering solutions themselves.
Doing their Homework
Through my years of experience working in schools, I heard stories of a great deal of parents helping with homework, papers, and projects far too much. While it is good to help when kids get stuck and ask for help, it is crucial to avoid offering suggestions for how to complete assignments, providing answers or solutions, or completing assignments for your children. First, the teacher will likely find out your child has received too much help, but more importantly, your child loses the opportunity to learn from his mistakes or learn from the consequence of not being prepared.
Once you begin to step back and allow your child to do things for themselves, your child will have more opportunities to learn from experience, to understand natural consequences, and to feel proud of herself for learning new skills. These valuable skills will be more helpful in the long run than receiving too much help will be.