Stepping In, Stepping Back

Help your child develop self-reliance



© Kim Reinick | Dreamstime.com

Self-reliance is a vital trait for people to have. Feeling confident in one’s abilities lets you modify your behavior to meet challenges and work through complex tasks with confidence instead of anxiety. It’s a skill we want to encourage in our children.

An important part of parenting is helping our kids develop the tools they’ll need throughout life, and developing self-reliance is among the most important ones. From day one, how we interact with our children is profoundly important. Their earliest relationship with us helps to shape who they will become. This means we have to think critically about striking the right balance between doing for them, and giving them the space to do for themselves.

 

Letting her do it her way

You and your toddler are visiting Overton Park’s playground on a spring day and the place is teeming with children. There are lots of play options but today your child is all about the slide. She begins to make her way to the top, but since she’s small, it’s tough going, and older children flow around her while she struggles upwards.

You know she can do it on her own, but it won’t happen quickly. It’s clear from her grin that she’s having a great time but she’s also taking forever and you’ve got an appointment soon. Should you lift her up the stairs and out of the way of the big kids? And if you do this each time, does your daughter begin to think she can’t manage the task on her own?

During the early years, important changes are taking place, like your child’s growing ability to make choices and become more independent of you. So-called helicopter parents, who rush in and do for their children, may be undermining the development of their child’s problem-solving skills and squashing their earliest manifestations of independence.

 

Practice patience

Our playground example may not seem momentous, but it’s a typical example of how we, as parents, wrestle with the balance of stepping in versus stepping back. She wants to pour the milk on her cereal but we know most of it will wind up on the table. She wants to help sweep the floor, but can’t manage the dustpan yet. She wants to pick out and put on her shoes, but you’re already running late. It’s easier to do it for her.

While no right answer applies to all of these circumstances, a bit of useful theory can lead to the best approach to parenting.

When things go off the rails, remember to model effective coping skills and show your child how being self-reliant helps to solve problems. Be there with support and encouragement when your child encounters difficulty, showing that you believe in her. Allow her time to get her head around manageable, age-appropriate stressors. In some cases, it may be best to let her fail a few times. Chances are, she’ll conquer the challenge herself. If she begins to get overwhelmed, be there to step in with gentle, guiding assistance.

And through it all, always be open to her signals. You know your child better than anyone else and you’re aware of the limits of her patience and attention. Sometimes it’s necessary to help tie her shoes to get out the door on time, but others it’s best to give her time for trial and error. She’ll get there eventually, and learning the value of her own effort will boost her confidence.

 

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