Parents all over the world are hurting their children and don’t even realize it! Why? Because they have the best intentions and love their child, but they are not thinking about the longterm consequences to their actions. I see this problem more every day in my dealings with kids between the ages of 4 and 12 years old.
More and more, I see kids who give up the second something becomes hard or worse, don’t even try because it might be hard. I see and hear kids say all the time, “I can’t.” and then pout or cry…..and here comes a parent (or grandparent) to the rescue and does it for them.
That is the problem! AND it is getting worse!!
The condition is called “Learned Helplessness” and it has existed in the animal kingdom forever. Now it is becoming recognized in humans and it is bad.
Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.
What is now happening in children is if they struggle with something (aversive stimulus) they don’t think they can do it so they stop trying and give up.
As a parent, have you ever heard your child say, “I can’t do it.” and you step in and do it for them?
I see this everyday. Parents who:
Tie their kids shoes for them
Tuck in their T-shirt
Tie their karate belt (for a child 8 years old)
carry all the child’s belongings
and the list goes on
These are well-intentioned parents. They love their child and they want the best for them. They are not thinking about the longterm harm they are causing, they are thinking about the immediate care taking they are giving.
As kids grow up, the more that someone steps in and does something for them, the more the child learns to expect and require it. They will not try to solve a problem on their own, they will wait for someone to come along and do it for them. The world is not going to take care of your child. Your child has to take care of themselves once they step out into the real world.
School teachers are not going to take the test for your child, or give them the answers to pass the test, so parents who do the homework for their child are setting them up for failure and frustration.
I have even heard horror stories of a parent going on a job interview with their child to make sure they got the job. The child was in his twenties and perfectly capable of doing it on his own.
When I work with a child, I am always thinking longterm. I ask myself, “How can I help this child today, so that they will become a good leader in the future?” And many times, the answer is to teach them to struggle now, so they will be ready for it later in life when it really matters.
Parents need to help their child at times. Sometimes they need to help a lot. BUT, they also need to take a look and ask themselves, “Do they REALLY need my help?” and if they do, “How much help do they need?”
Instead of jumping in and doing it for them, help them get over their “stuck” point and let them continue the task. An example of this would be:
A child is tying to tie their shoes. They are not getting it so they throw their hands up in the air and say, “I can’t do it.” Instead of tying the shoe for them, guide them through the process. My approach goes like this:
Step 1 – I say, “Don’t tell me what you can’t do.” Said in a matter of fact way. Not in a harsh way.
Step 2 – Show me where you are stuck.
Step 3 – Walk them through the “stuck” point.
Step 4 – Ask, “Good, what do you do next?”
Step 5 – Watch them complete the rest of the task and reinforce their success.
Step 6 – Start over.
If you follow this approach, you will prepare your child for life long success.