Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hands Off Parenting

I've been trying to be less overbearing as a parent (are such things possible?) by letting the kids be more independent, even when the situation may call for some assistance. I'd like to clarify that it irks them to no end when I intervene in something that they want to do by themselves, and I have to really take step back and allow them to work independently, but I am the quintessential helicopter parent, at the ready to swoop in whenever they call for my help. Consequently, when the going gets tough, sometimes they throw in the towel too easily and call for me to jump in, before I think they've really given it a good try.

It's a fine balancing act, and you don't want them to feel discouraged and of course to ever compromise their health and safety, but the reality is, kids need to stumble now and then because they learn a great deal from it, and we're not doing them any favors by helping them avoid it.

Case in point, XC skiing. We were heading up this massive hill and I asked N if he wanted to do it. He said yes, so went for it. It wasn't easy for him, and I was right behind him so I could see firsthand the challenge of it all. He was stumbling and slipping as his friends, the older kids, were off and running way up ahead. At some point, you forget about everyone around you and focus on the job at hand. He was having a rough go of it, but doing it.

K must have thought I was the biggest asshole because she came down the hill and offered to tow him up, but I knew he wanted to do it, and he politely declined her assistance. I think it surprise and maybe even impressed her a little. I can't say for sure, but I know one thing, I sure felt like a dick by not stepping in and helping. But again, I felt like it was a good experience for him.

And he did it, and felt the jubilation of doing it all by his lonesome. He works so hard to keep up, it really is a challenge, but he grows from the experience.

It also happened yesterday with A. We went to homeschool art and afterwards the kids wanted to play in the snow. There is a jungle gym with a swing, which somebody placed too high up to get on with any ease. A was trying to get on, and after a first failed attempt, called out for me to help her. I told her to keep trying, and I could see she was only giving a half-hearted effort, thinking that eventually I would just come and lift her up, but I stood my ground, and even told her that I think it best that she try.

Well, that sure pissed her off, and she took off in a huff. I blew it by finally offering to help, but by that time she wasn't buying it and told me as much as she brooded in the snow. She may have been pondering her dilemma because she did eventually come back and figured out how to get on the swing, all by herself. I had literally nothing to do with it, well maybe a little by default.

The point is, it wasn't life threatening in any way, it would have been easier and simpler for me to just do things for them, but they stuck in there and figured it out for themselves. Those kinds of experiences will speak volumes to them throughout their lives.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.


The Book Chook said...

This is a really good point, Fred. I know there were too many times in my life when I grabbed something my son was doing and "helped" because we had to get somewhere, or maybe because I was impatient!

Growing independent kids is part of tough love, i think. We have to stamp back on that rescue instinct and give them time to work it out.

Tamar Chansky said...

Hi- I found your blog on a google search for helicopter parenting-- my latest obsession. Great stories-- as parents we may think we are helping, but we may be doing so more out of not being able to tolerate our kid's (or or own) discomfort-- but then we are teaching our kids that struggle (even within reason) is bad-- rather than letting them see that it is part of the learning process.

It's harder to hang back than to jump in, but who said parenting would be easy?

I've written about this fine balancing act in my book, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility and Happiness. The idea is wanting the "best" for our kids doesn't mean giving it to them, it does mean supporting them in being able to achieve it for themselves, in the snow and beyond...
All best,
Tamar Chansky

kmarshall said...

Hey Fred,

Was really fun to ski with you, Nicholas and Audrey.
What great kids. Yeah, it is a fine balance, leaving our kids to conquer and enjoy and feel accomplishment, and knowing when they may be at the edge of their fun, and needing a little help.
Hope you didn't mind my offering to tow...just knew it had come in handy for Aidan now and then.
Nicholas was steadfast, and I was delighted that he declined my assistance !!

By the way, Aidan was pumped and so I followed him, after we left you...I asked him what was up, and he said, "I see that hill and that path going down, and I've just got to get to the top so I can ski down it!" Yikes, I had no idea... we had a blast, and would love to do it again sometime with you guys.

Enjoy's today's snow..
Love your blog...I'm compelled..."what does Fred have to say today?...good luck Fred". See you at the Tiki Torch maybe,


Anonymous said...

I've experienced the same struggle to balance between helping and letting go. I'm starting a website soon that will support families who want to teach their kids how to think better, so they have more tools for coping on their own. The tools will be provided by Dr. Edward de Bono (see Teach Your Child How to Think at Amazon). Do you think parents will be interested in exploring?

phredude said...

Hi Susan, Yes, tough love is sometimes required of us, and it might not make us popular, but such is the life of a parent. And yes, often times it boils down to me just being impatient. The irony of it is that it's easier to just do it, subsequently giving ourselves more work. Funny how that works. Thanks for your thoughts.

phredude said...

Hi Tamar, Thanks for commenting. I'd love to check out your book and will visit your site. As critical as I am of helicopter parents, I am the quintessential one. I'm glad that our kids get mad at us for helping too much, because it really reminds me to lighten up and let them do it themselves. Sure, they'll stumble a little, but that's part of growing up, and sheltering them from it isn't helping them in the end.

phredude said...

Hi Kathy, We had a blast and look forward to many more excursions with you guys, though we'll have trouble keeping up with you and Aidan. Thanks for dropping by and we'll see you soon.

phredude said...

Dear Anonymous, that sounds like a great idea. Let me know when it's up and I'll check it out. Parents sometimes need to be reminded of the things they already know. Thanks for stopping by.

The Book Chook said...

I'm chiming in here, too Anonymous. I love De Bono's Six Thinking Hats and I think you would get many interested parents to your site.

Book Chook tip: make it easy for people to subscribe!