Sunday, August 1, 2010

How Much Help is Too Much...Or Not Enough?

I continuously struggle with the notion of how much "help" I should provide my kids knowing full well they are capable of doing some things on their own.  When do I step in and offer assistance and when do I let them figure it out on their own?

I was at the park the other day when Nicholas starting climbing the monkey bars.  He got stuck in a spot and shouted for me to help him.  He wasn't that far off the ground so I said, "Just let go.  You can fall to the ground."  He kept yelling for my help and I kept telling him to just drop to the ground.  He was much closer to the ground than he thought he was, but he decided to work his way around the bars back to the play structure base instead of dropping.  Nicholas snorted like a mad bull and his pursed lips and lowered eyebrows clearly let me know that he was not happy with my decision not to assist him.  If his eyes could shoot out fire blasts he would have singed a gaping hole right through me.   

I felt a little guilty.  Oops.  Maybe I should have helped him?  Maybe I'm a rotten mother who would rather sit on a park bench and chat with my friend than help my son figure out how to maneuver the monkey bars.  Well, before you think I'm the worst parent in the world, consider that Nicholas has maneuvered these monkey bars numerous times before.  Consider that he is capable of dropping to the ground from these monkey bars as he's demonstrated numerous times before.  Consider that Nicholas loves to blame me when things don't go his way.

I'm at a tricky stage of motherhood where I need to allow my children to be the independent beings I've nurtured without racing in to provide help at every turn.  They need to make choices and learn about the consequences of those choices, good or bad. We all have to make those choices on our own, eventually.  I will help with the moral choices or the choices that present new challenges, but I'm not helping a 7-year-old drop to the ground from monkey bars he's conquered before.  He made the choice to work his way back to the platform instead.  The point is, he evaluated his options and he made the choice.  

Nicholas likes to blame me when he doesn't get his homework done or when he doesn't finish a project he started.  He doesn't like to make mistakes (I can't imagine where he got that from) so instead of owning up to doing something incorrectly, he stops trying altogether and blames me for not finishing.  I know that I can't help him if my help prevents him from ever trying it on his own and making his own mistakes.  That's how we learn.  We make mistakes and figure how to do it better or different the next time.   It's hard for me because as much as I want to help, I can't.  He needs to learn his own capabilities by stretching out of his comfort zone every once in awhile.

Part of making our own choices is dealing with the consequences of those choices.  Part of dealing with the consequences of our choices is learning not to blame other people if things don't go our way. As I said before, I will help with choices that present new challenges.  Like whether or not to tell a friend that another friend said something derogatory about him.   Nicholas chose to tell his friend about the derogatory statement thinking that his friend had a right to know what was being said about him.  I told Nicholas I didn't think that was a good idea because the only purpose it served was to make his friend feel bad about the derogatory statement.  The friend would never have known about the derogatory statement if Nicholas didn't tell him.  Nicholas asked me if what he did was "bad" and I said it's not "bad," it just wasn't a good choice.  A good choice would have been to tell the friend who uttered the derogatory statement that it wasn't nice or, better yet, ignore the comment altogether because it had nothing to do with him.

I explained that the consequences of sharing conversation details with someone who wasn't present for said conversation would be 1) his friends think he's a tattletale and 2) he can't be trusted with information.  Whatever issues his friends have with each other is none of his business.  He can be friends with other friends who don't like each other and respect each friend's privacy when it come to sharing details of conversations.  As in, don't share those details. Boy that's a hard lesson because even some adults have a hard time exercising restraint when it comes to sharing useless or harmful information.  

My heart aches each time I see my kids struggling with a problem, whether it's one they can figure out on their own or not.  I've been down these roads before.  I can see the outcome clearly.  They can't.  But, they have to learn, just like I did (and have and continue to do) that we have to take responsibility for our own actions.  I wish I could step in at every turn and help my kids with all of their problems.  But that doesn't produce responsible adults and I look forward to my kids turning into responsible adults.

Even if it means enduring the snorting bull whose glare shoots scorching, hot fire blasts.  Ouch.


Paige said...

It is a very difficult balance to come by, but it gets easier as they get older and know that doing things on their own sometimes make you more likely to help when they really need it.

Kim Murray said...

Hi Paige,

You're's definitely a fine line and one I hope to navigate successfully as they get older!


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