Helping or hindering? When doing too much for your child backfires

We want our kids to thrive and we’ll do everything in our power to keep them happy, well-regulated and engaged. Of course, sometimes we can do too much, overstepping our bounds and taking away from the process of developing independence.

There are many reasons why parents feel the need to dive in and do things for their children, but it is important to acknowledge the possible implications. Doing everything for your child might sound harmless, but in reality there are long-term consequences and often parents don’t think of the bigger picture.

As occupational therapists we’re taught the importance of independence at the very beginning of our tertiary level education. We strive to encourage independence (across all ages) in daily life activities or occupations. Hence the name occupational therapy. More and more this seems to be a topic of conversation amongst therapists’ and parents alike. How do we encourage our children to simply rely on us rather than depend entirely on us day-in and day-out?     

So why do parents feel the need to do everything for their child?

  • Every parent likes to feel needed
  • Appeasing your child often leads to happiness
  • What worked yesterday doesn’t always work today
  • Sometimes it’s just easier to avoid conflict
  • You don’t want to see your child struggle
  • You just need to get the job done!

And why can it be problematic?

  • Firstly, you’re depriving them of vital learning opportunities. Opportunities to make mistakes, solve problems, encounter challenges and ultimately GROW from these experiences. For most of us, the concept of discomfort carries negative connotations, but it’s important to remember that people learn in the space between comfort and discomfort.
  • You are missing out on opportunities to EMPOWER them, which inadvertently builds confidence and self-reliance.
  • Children learn through repetition. If you swoop in to rescue them every time they struggle, they will never learn these vital skills for themselves.
  • You are not always going to be around to help. Over-parenting simply perpetuates a child’s helplessness.

What skills does my child learn when engaged independently in a task?

Executive Functions

This is like the CEO of the brain. Situated in the frontal lobe (AKA the thinking brain) it helps us manage time, solve problems, remember details based on previous experience, pay attention, plan and organise.

Skill development

Almost every activity of daily living (dressing, eating, toileting, grooming) requires some form of skill. For example, a simple component of dressing such as doing up buttons can develop refined hand use, fine-motor control, touch discrimination and motor planning/sequencing.

Emotional resilience and determination

Failure is an opportunity for growth. As difficult as it is to watch your child struggle, remember that failure is all a part of the learning process.                              

What should my child be doing for themselves?

Here is a list of AGE-appropriate self-care tasks that you can expect of your child at various ages. Remember that every child develops at their own pace, so this is simply a guideline.

One of the biggest culprits of over-parenting is poor time management.  As parents, it is our responsibility to CREATE the space and time for self-care to happen. How often do you see children being carried by their parents or being forced into shoes/socks in a hurry? Parenthood is already a balancing act so it’s okay to hand over the reins to your children in areas where they are perfectly capable.

Aim to be a parent who guides and teaches rather than attempts to solve all problems for them or provide constant attention to their every need. Think to yourself: Can my child do these things for him/herself? If so, take a step back and allow them to do it themselves. You might be surprised at the outcome!

Here are some great downloadable resources to encouraging self-care tasks at home:

https://www.toolstogrowot.com/therapy-resources/self-care-life-skills

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