As parents, our first instinct is always to help our kids out of a difficult or stressful situation. The term “helicopter parenting” has been bantered about a fair bit recently, as we try to define that line between caring too much or too little for the well-being of our kids. Where do you stand?
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The age and maturity of your child does have a big part to play in the decision, of course. After all, a two year old is going to need a lot more help getting out of a fix than a six year old. That said, I do think that it is true that “hovering” endlessly over your kids and trying to find a solution to their every problem can do a lot more harm than good in the long run. After all, I won’t be there to pick up the pieces when he makes a mistake in school or when she stays over at a friend’s house.
Even though I could easily step into the situation and help them immediately, here are five things I want my kids to solve on their own as they grow up.
“Mummy I’m bored” is a popular refrain in many households, in some cases followed immediately by a “Can I play my game on your phone/iPad/computer?” Kids today have so many toys, gadgets, books and games at their disposal, that it’s hard to imagine them getting bored – and yet they do. Don’t be afraid to let your child be bored, or see it as something negative. Sometimes boredom or having nothing to do is precisely the driving force that spurs out kids on to innovate, to try something new, or simply to learn to be okay with silence and rest.
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Kids get frustrated pretty easily. A Lego tower that keeps toppling down, that tag at the back of his new tee shirt, not being able to find the matching shoe for her Barbie’s dress. We all have our triggers – adults included – but young kids may need some coaching to learn to respond in a healthy way without you caving in to solve the problem for them. Sometimes, in that moment of frustration, what you child needs most is a hug and your encouragement to try again.
Sometimes they need a change of environment to calm down before thinking of a solution. Sometimes they need you to give them ideas on how to overcome the problem that is frustrating them. Most times, they don’t need you to take over and solve the problem in their place. So instead of finding that missing Barbie shoe, help your child to think through all the place it could be and then let her go look for it.
How we, as parents, view failure will greatly impact how our kids view failure, success, risk and resilience. If we want to build up a generation who will be tough in ties of adversity, and persevere on through the challenges of life, then we need to let them fail. This means taking a step back when your child is trying to mix red and blue to make orange, not jumping in to mix the right colours for her. It means encouraging your son to do his homework to the best of his ability, and letting teacher do the correcting – not you.
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But rather than telling the kids what to do in a conflict situation (“Give your sister the ball now, or else.” Or “Share your toy or I will take it away!”), a much better way is to coach your kids to negotiate through and resolve the conflict for themselves, on terms that work for all the parties concerned. Encourage them to express their needs, desire and frustrations, to vocalize their feelings and to think of a creative solution.
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This is a big one for us here in Singapore. Let’s face it – our kids bring home a ton of homework, from as early as kindergarten! Now, of course we all want our children to be diligent and dedicated to their studies, and to always do their best. Sometimes, though, we parents can get carried away. When your son is struggling to finish his work for the day, you offer to help him do a couple of pages.
When your daughter is struggling with a math question, you solve it for her and let her copy the answer and its working onto the worksheet. Before your child hands in his homework, you check it for yourself, to spot errors that can be changed before the teacher sees it. These are short-term, instant solutions that will contribute nothing towards creating a thinking individual who dares to be challenge and is fully responsible for his own work. The problem is that, eventually, your kids will need to solve these problems on their own.
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Any child, from toddlerhood to adulthood, could come face to face with these five problems on a daily basis. As a parent, I don’t believe in just ignoring my child’s stress, but in helping him think through his possible responses and outcomes. How we respond to their struggle is vital in teaching them the value of responsibility, self-ownership and resilience.
By Dorothea Chow
What are some of the things you hope your child will be able to solve on their own? Share them with us!