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Yes, Please, Help My Kids, (if they need it)


A while back, I read some parenting article that went viral.  This lady was on a rant about how she didn’t want people to help her daughter on the playground.  It was all ‘tough love‘, my girl’s gotta learn that life ain’t easy and that you’ve gotta stand up for yourself, etc.  She went on and on about how life is full of disappointments and upsets and how if you can’t figure out how to be tough on the playground, then where else will you learn your life lessons?  Most people wrote comments like, “You go girl!”  Or, “Oh… your daugther will grow up to be so strong.” etc…  But… not me…. I was rolling my eyes as I read.  I see the situation all so differently.

I don’t want my kids to grow up in a cold and hostile world where they feel like it’s all up to themselves to ‘make it.  The world is not such a place.  Yes, there are bad things happening everywhere.  Yes, there are disappointments.  Yes, sometimes we get frustrated, angry, upset, have our heart trampled, or get physically injured… But, just because things aren’t easy, doesn’t mean that kids should have to always ‘figure it all out‘ by themselves!  It’s absurd to think that everyone is just out on a limb struggling to ‘make it‘.  We’re all in this together!

I remember all too clearly that feeling of nobody wanting to help me.  I used to struggle with my homework and some well-meaning adults were forever saying, over and over again, “Katie, you need to figure it out yourself, this is the way the world is, you can’t have everyone do everything for you!”  I felt so desperate that I often used to end up in tears and I would feel like such a loser!  Was it confidence building for me to ‘figure it out myself‘…. um… I don’t think so.  Not only did I feel stupid at home, but then, I felt stupid in school the next day because I never had my homework finished.  Couldn’t I have been given just a little bit of direction?  A little boost?  Just to set me on the right path?  At the time, a little help would have gone a long way… but no, I had to ‘figure it out for myself.’  I can still hear those words ringing in my ears years and years later.

Did it make me a stronger person to sit there completely frustrated and desperate all the time?  I don’t know…  I’m not saying that things should always work out in your favor.  It’s the struggles and problems that we overcome in life that help us to grow.  But still… can’t a kid get a bit of help if they need it and are genuinely asking for it?

Society flourishes when we have trust in other people and know how to skillfully ask for and receive help and advice.  Humans are social animals and function best when we have supportive and loving people around us.  I want my kids to know that they can always ask for help, if they need it.  That they are not in outer space all by themselves trying to ‘make it’ in a cruel world.  I want them to learn that when they can’t figure something out at first, then it’s ok to ask for help!  It’s ok! Trust and belongingness go a long way in developing compassion and love in a person… am I wrong?  Sure, there will have to be times when they have to ‘do it themselves’, But, the help they have received in other tricky situations will translate into confidence later down the track, when they actually have to ‘do it themselves’.  Do you see what I’m saying?

I don’t do everything for my kids.  My kids are learning their life skills.  It takes a lot of patience to sit back and watch them learn their way.  There are certainly times when I want to grab whatever they’re doing out of their hands and help them to ‘do it right‘.  But, I don’t dare!  They certainly need to figure things out on their own.  They need to have failures.  They need to have disappointments…  BUT, they also need to learn how and when to ask for a little help!  They need loving and trusting adults to let them know that someone is watching and listening and caring.

This morning, Margo was working on some puzzles.  At first, they were pretty overwhelming for her.  She didn’t know where to start, but she really wanted to do them.  I could see that if I had just left her at the table to ‘figure them out herself‘, she would have become too frustrated to do any of them.  She asked me to come over and help her.  So, instead of just letting her ‘learn it the hard way‘.  I SAT down with her.  Yes, I gave her my 100% attention (gasp).  I let HER ask me for help.  I showed her a few tricks.  She tried a few things.  Then, she asked for a little more help.  I gave her the help she needed and let her figure out the rest on her on. (This type of teaching and learning is called scaffolding, to be technical).

Within about ten minutes, she was putting most of the puzzle together by herself.  The tiny bit of direction that I gave her was helping her, exponentially, to figure out what she was doing.  I could see her confidence growing by the minute.  By the afternoon, she came back to the puzzles and I could see that her brain had somehow expanded in her puzzle completing capacity after a little nap and she was finishing more and more of the puzzle on her own.  She was stoked!  I didn’t do the puzzle for her.  I wasn’t her cheerleader.  All I did was get her started.

Children’s creativity and learning capacity flourish when they are given just the right amount of help.  Some kids might require A LOT of help and attention.  While others may require very little help (hopefully, the ranting mother’s child was like this).  Some kids require a bit of a kick in the seat to do something, while others only need some gentle direction.  Even still, sometimes kids just plain don’t feel like doing something that they already know how to do, and ask for help.  And, I have to defend them here sometimes… aren’t there times when YOU don’t feel like doing something?  There have been plenty of times when I’ve been glued to the couch and I wish some nice person would go and get me a glass of water.  You must know the feeling…

What do you think?  Do you help your kids when they ask for it?  Am I raising a bunch of whimpy kids?

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(please let me know if you find typos… late night blogging=occasional mistakes))

23 Responses »

  1. Thank you! I read that article and I found myself doubting the fact that my instincts say to stop my child from hurting himself. “Should I be letting him hurt himself more often?” Nope. Deep down I didn’t agree with her though and I’m glad you wrote this as I agree with you. I let my son ask for help but I don’t think it’s fair to let him face the world alone. There’s a reason we have friends and family – to help each other.

  2. I think balance is key, but there is certainly nothing wrong with helping kids when they need it, and in fact, I think it’s important for them to learn it’s okay to ask for help. I think there’s a big focus in our culture on independence and self-reliance, which I’m not saying is a negative thing, but I know many people (including myself!) who find it so hard to ask for help, or to express the need for a break when they’re tired, or to show weakness or that they don’t know something. I think it’s good for kids to feel comfortable asking for help; life is tough, but if you don’t have anyone in your life that you can rely on for comfort or assistance, that would be pretty sad and lonely!
    I love your reference to scaffolding (my background is in teaching too) and I think you are right on talking about being present, and providing just a little nudge here and there, but not jumping in to fix things and do it all the ‘right way’. I’m working on that now with my 2 year old. Sometimes the self-restraint is tough, but it’s also great to see him do things on his own (more or less) and see how proud he is of himself 🙂
    Hope this didn’t get rambly… have had nights of bad sleep with my 4 month old! Anyway, thanks for another great ‘food for thought’ post!

    • I wish the focus from independence would shift towards one of creating inner strength while still being able to reach out for help! I’ve also found it hard to ask for help, and I never thought about how maybe it stemmed from when I was a kid! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. I somewhat agree.
    I agree that we teach them. We are there to protect them. However I also believe that children need room to move and need to be encouraged to keep trying. I like to encourage mine to keep trying, it doesn’t mean Im not there to help but with encouraging words, it pushes them a little more than if you are to rush in and take over. It gives them a sense of “yes it was hard, but I did it” feeling. Age appropriate of course.

    • I definitely know what you mean. I don’t offer aid at every micro-step of the way. It’s a fine skill that parents need to learn. How to effectively offer help and when to step back.

  4. Oh wow I love this! My daughter is still to come into this stage of life but I look forward to having this perspective on it when she does 🙂 My mum mollycoddled me a little but I was so confident when I was younger. If I said “I wanna do it” she would leave me to it until I came and asked her for help 🙂 Its great to know your opinion on it as Tough love just isn’t an option in my book and I’m pretty sure she probably wouldn’t thank me for it later in life 🙂

  5. You sound like a very caring and loving mum ! We need more mum’s like this in the world. I like to stand back and allow my 3 1/2 year old daughter to really give it her best shot before she gives up, unless I can see that whatever it might be is a fair way beyond her own abilities, then I’m right there beside her. There are definitely times when she pretends that she can’t do something she’s done 100 times over before, this is usually when she’s tired or unwell. I believe children need every bit of support that we can offer when they’re struggling, how else is confidence built ?

    • Awe, thanks for the compliment 🙂 It’s so true how sometimes they say they can’t do it… and rather than try and force them to, just remember that sometimes we don’t feel like doing something because we’re tired (as I sit her late at night now wanting to get up and brush my teeth).

  6. Lori-Lee Regimbald

    I think I remember that article as well, although I remember it differently.which just reminds me that people take to away different things that resonate with them from the same body of writing. For me, I related to the other post because I find it frustrating when people are consistently trying to step in to “help” my son with things. I always give him a chance to do things on his own, being close enough that he can ask for help but standing back enough for him to do it himself. I must have totally skipped over the parts of the other writer talking about how life is hard and her kids need to toughen up. Now I want to find it and re-read it.
    Anyway, my point is that as another comment mentions, it’s about balance. My background as an Early Childhood Educator enables me to realize how important it is for children to have freedom and opportunity to learn to do things on their own. And the mom inmy knows that you need to show that your children can out their trust in you and rely on you for help if and when they need it.
    Thank you for writing this 🙂

    • It is true, a lot of people really resonated with what the original author was saying, and it’s easy to take things out of context! I know a lot of people really liked the original article too! Maybe I just felt like she could have expressed her idea better!

  7. I had a mother freak out at me when my 18 month old tripped on a footpath after her son had glided past on his scooter. I was close enough to see that it was a coincidence and not an act of aggression, and I also know that my daughter is highly independent and needs a few seconds to sort herself out before I jump in to help her out. So I stood back, only to have this woman race over and and first apologise profusely for her son, and then go nuts at me when I said that he hadn’t actually hurt her and she was really OK. Believe me, it has been tough to learn to stand back and watch for signs of her needing help before jumping in to help, but she really does prefer to be left to dust herself off most of the time. I don’t even have to ask her any more, she tells me “I alright” when she is, and she carries on playing. But it’s usually pretty easy to tell in that first second if it’s more than she can handle, if she has injured herself, or scared herself and needs love and care to make her alright again. If she’s overtired or close to nap time, smaller things will cause her to cry and I never leave her on her own if she cries. I’ve also had other women at the playground groan when I pick her up after a bad fall or help her to use a swing for the first time. Everyone is going to have an opinion, some are going to have no shame in sharing it with you to your face or behind your back, and I just do my best to stick to what I know is best for my girl’s personality and ignore the bullshit. (She also naps on me most days and spent the first 6 months in my arms but you’d never know it when she gets outside the house)

    • Kids are all so different! My younger daughter is the type to actually push me away when she falls and is annoyed because she wants to do it herself… but she will also hand me a toy or something that she is trying to figure out if it’s not happening. It’s so important for kids to have mothers like you who can read their child and know when to step up or when to stand by!

  8. Loved your blog! I’m very big on kids learning independently and learning to solve problems within their capabilities. But a strong confident child will understand when to ask for help. Life is full of problem solving and can be hard sometimes too. It’s harder on those who don’t ask for or accept help. I’m sure your daughter is comforted by the thought that you are always there for her when she needs you.

  9. My 14 month old daughter is strong-willed and likes to do things independently. She learns on her own the action songs on youtube but I still like showing her how to do it more elaborately. I don’t direct her hands though but show it to her more slowly so she can analyze and figure it out on her own.

    That being said, I think it’s not a matter of always helping or resisting to help a child. Guidance is key here in order for a child to understand better. As a parent, we show at least once how a thing is done when the child is puzzled as to how to interact to a situation presented then leave them to master their craft or experiment different ways and results.

  10. I remember asking my parents how to spell a word. EVERY time their answer was look it up in the dictionary-how would I know if it started with a C or a K.To me that was lazy parenting. Same issue with homework,it was something I had to do myself.As a result my grades would slip and I would be punished for being “stupid” or because I didn’t do my homework. As a new parent I have vowed to be different to my parents as I remember feeling so low and stupid as noone would help me

    • Nicky, I remember that SAME scenario!!! Look it up in the dictionary… UGH! Even if I knew that it started with a c… did it go ca, cu, co… oh, don’t get me started!

  11. If I may, I’d like to share my views from a few perspectives, namely my former professional life, my current professional life and my personal life.

    Twenty years ago I served in a military unit whose express role was the destruction of targets more than a hundred kilometres behind enemy lines – I make this point only to point out that there are few environments more hostile than those I have seen. In such environments, I found that the “toughest” ones were those who cracked first. To use an analogy, the more hardened something gets, the more brittle it becomes – when a hard object is exposed to too great a force, it shatters. In that same environment, the ones who survived best were those who were flexible enough to deal with rapidly changing (read deteriorating) situations. This “tough love” mother is simply setting her daughter up for catastrophic failure.

    Moving on to my current professional perspective as a psychologist, this woman is going all out to teach her daughter that the world is cold and hostile, and in turn to start with the assumption of the worst. If she succeeds, her daughter will view the world in the worst way possible, expect nothing but bad things to result from every single experience and seek for proof that everyone she encounters will be the worst possible example of humanity. In short, to use the term in a technically accurate manner, she is engineering her daughter to be neurotic.

    Again, speaking professionally, the experts in my field to whom I would gladly defer have in recent times been moving towards positive psychology. This new direction proposes that we’re all better off working towards something desirable, instead of avoiding the undesirable. IMHO this is easily the best development in the last half century in psychology; why try avoiding a million and one things when you could pick a couple of things you want to do? As Thoreau said, “Simplify, simplify, simplify”. Apart from this, any field of human study you care to pick has for the past few decades been emphasising how working as a team easily beats getting a bunch of individuals who are all in it for themselves. “Tough love mum” really needs to get with the times.

    All of the above is simply academic when I think about how my mother raised me. Having lived through Japanese occupation in World War 2, and then having become a nurse, she had seen her fair share of young parents being dragged away from their families by war and disease, and she was determined that should she and my father ever kick the bucket at an inopportune moment, my sister and I would know how to take care of ourselves; by six I was cleaning the house and ironing my own clothes, by eight I was cooking my own meals. Did she do it the “tough love” way? Absolutely not – she taught my sister and I to do all of these things, and she gave us whatever help we needed to get it right. These lessons were crucial to how we bonded with her.

    But forget the warm and fuzzy stuff – “tough love mum” would not care about that. My sister and I have spent the last twenty years in the top 1% of our chosen professions, more often than not against fairly firm international competition – I can’t say Mum’s done too badly for someone who left school at Year 10.

    Lest I come off as sounding like I know all the answers, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t. As my little girl turned two this afternoon, upon reflection I can’t do any better than the people I have learned from. If Sophia grows up knowing what a loving environment looks like, how to get along with people and some of the basics of looking after herself, I’ll have broken even. Anything more than that is most likely going to be my wife’s doing.

    • Wow James, that is a most awesome and thorough reply! Such amazing depth and experience you have. Thank you so much! You know, when I was writing this, I was actually thinking about a war scenario. Even in war, even in the most desperate situations, clinging on to the hope that there is someone there to help you.. might be just enough to get you through, right?

      • My pleasure, Kate. 🙂

        I’d agree about the power of hope, to the extent that if one loses hope, it’s game over. I’d take things one step further by citing two of history’s better military minds. Sun Tzu’s view was that the best war is one that is won without a single shot being fired. When General Sir Gerald Templer arrived in Malaya to fight the communists in 1952, he said, “The answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the people”. The fact that the Malayan campaign worked out much more neatly than Vietnam is testimony to Sir Gerald’s wisdom. On any given day, the artful building of relationships easily trumps chest-beating bravado.

        From another perspective, there is not a single special forces unit in the world that would accept, much less encourage, a Rambo mentality. The very key to such units is a bond between team members, to the extent that each member knows what to do next without need for debate.

        All of this works out to one single point, namely that we human beings do not live solitary existences, least of all in dire circumstances. We are best off working with other people in a way that makes best use of everybody’s individual strengths. “Tough love mum” is teaching her daughter the entirely wrong thing.

      • I love that.., ‘a rambo mentality’.. seriously! There are too many tough love parents out there, and I think most of them are only doing it because they think it’s the only way to teach a child to ‘make it’ in the world. We need more parents like you 🙂

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