I don’t know about you, but I spend an exhausting amount of time making sure life goes smoothly for my children.
I wouldn’t call myself a “helicopter parent” necessarily, but I feel better knowing that my kids are more-or-less heading in the right direction.
I can hear it in my warnings: “Be careful!” “Slow down, you might slip!”
And my comments: “Are you sure you want to wear those pants? They look a little small.” “Don’t you want to brush your hair before you go to school?”
It should get easier, but my fear seems to get more intense as my kids grow. Can you relate?
Suddenly, when we see that they are struggling in math, we worry that they will fall behind. And if their grades start to slip as a freshman, they won’t get into a good college, and then they’ll never get a good job and they’ll struggle for the rest of their life…
Maybe not that extreme.
But sometimes, our thinking does go to those extremes, doesn’t it? And that’s ok, as long as it’s a temporary thought that moves you to support mode, rather than creating a battle plan to protect your child.
How to Empower Your Kids When They Struggle
- Make sure the task is age and developmentally appropriate.
- Teach necessary skills before expecting your child to succeed.
- Listen and express empathy before giving your opinion or solution.
- Focus on working together and brainstorming solutions.
- Encourage the process rather than focusing on a perfect outcome.
- Allow for “do-overs.”
- Express your concerns in a way that promotes thinking and problem-solving.
- Pause before you intervene, struggling often leads to solutions.
- Verbally acknowledge any pride, joy, relief or sense of accomplishment your child feels after succeeding!
- Respond immediately to safety concerns.
- Seek mental health support for issues that persist, impact your child’s daily living (sleep, eating, schoolwork, or family involvement) or that you believe may be symptoms of a bigger problem.
Examples of Empowering by Age
When we talk about letting our kids “fail” or “struggle” I don’t mean letting your kids run in the street unsupervised to “learn a lesson about traffic safety.” I’m referring to age and developmentally appropriate tasks.
Let’s say your toddler is working on a new puzzle. It’s only 5 pieces, but he seems to be having a really hard time matching up the lines. You see him struggling. He starts complaining, asking for help. Your instinct is to put the pieces in for him. Ease his frustration.
Instead, you sit beside him and give him encouragement. “That bunny’s ears are at the top. Can your bunny put his ears at the top too?” Watch the pride and joy fill his face when he finally fits the piece into the correct spot! He did it. And now, he knows how to do it next time.
Or maybe your grade-schooler comes home with a story about how her “best friend” gave all the other girls an invitation to her birthday party, except for her. Your gut might put you into battle-mode. “Well, I’ll give her mother a call. You’ll get an invitation too, sweetie.”
Instead, hear her out. Give her your support without your opinions. “Wow, how do you feel about that?” Or “That sounds horrible, how did you handle that?” Once you’ve given her time to talk and process, move to solutions. Again, without offering your own. “Do you have any ideas how to solve this problem?” Or, “Do you want to do something or just let it go?” You have given her an opportunity to feel pain, learn that it is temporary and search for positive solutions. Great skills for the future.
Finally, your teen’s grades are slipping. Not a lot, A’s and B’s to B’s and C’s, but still, you’re concerned. When you bring up the subject, your child seems to minimize the problem. That triggers something inside of you. You start to lecture, frantically hoping that your words will move them to action: “Don’t you know how important grades are?! Colleges will be looking at the grades from this quarter! You’re going to end up working at McDonald’s for the rest of your life!!” Unfortunately, lecturing is not very motivating.
Instead, approach the subject from a supportive angle. “It looks like you’re struggling in Chemistry. Is there anything I can do to help you get through the rest of this quarter?” Yes, it’s true, colleges will look at their grades. And, yes, it’s true that they may not get into the Ivy League school you were hoping for. However, many, many, many high schoolers have struggled in school due to poor study skills, lack of time management, undiagnosed learning disabilities, and misplaced priorities. And, believe it or not, many of these kids have learned these skills, gone to Junior College, 4-year universities, tech schools, even graduate schools and found a job they loved.
No parent wants to watch their child suffer.
Especially if they feel that they could intervene to make it better. Most people avoid things that are sad, difficult or uncomfortable, so it’s natural for you to want to rescue your child (and yourself) from these feelings.
The problem comes when we rescue our children from these difficult situations too soon. When we sense a potential problem and swoop in and ease the discomfort. It might make us feel better, but our children miss out on a learning opportunity.
Feeling the need to intervene does not mean you are a bad parent.
On the contrary, it shows how much compassion and love you have for your child.
It’s challenging to love your child enough to support them – but not necessarily rescue them – as they learn difficult lessons.