Living with Children: Gently refusing to help kids
I recently asked a group of 50 teachers: “Raise your hand if you agree that when a child comes to an adult asking for help with an academic problem, the adult should help.”
Fifty hands went up.
So, then I asked, “Now raise your hand if you agree that 80 percent of the time, on average, that a child says he needs help with a problem, he does not truly need help; he has simply reached the limit of his tolerance for frustration and wants someone else to solve the problem for him.”
Fifty hands went up. I've done this same exercise with subsequent groups of teachers, always with the same results, proportionately speaking.
It makes no sense that someone would agree to both statements. They are contradictory. The true statement, of course, is the second one. Therefore, adults should not be quick to help children with problems — problems of any sort, actually. Adults should not take children who say things like “I can't,” “It's too hard” and “I need help” at their word.
They should, more often than not, gently refuse to help. As in, “I know you can do that. You just need to think about it some more.” Or, “You've solved harder problems than this one. Are you feeling lazy today?” Yes, it's perfectly OK to say even that, as “incorrect” as it may sound.
I have a question for the reader: Why do today's moms feel that raising children is an inherently stressful endeavor? The answer: For lots of reasons, one of which is that, with rare exception, today's moms believe that when a child asks for help, his mother should stop what she is doing and help.
The mom of 60-plus years ago was not inclined to help on demand, which is a big reason why moms of that bygone era did not complain to one another that raising children was exhausting. For example, I once asked my mother for help with a fifth-grade math problem. She looked at the problem and handed the book back to me, saying, “I figured that out when I was your age. So can you.” And that was that.
My mom was typical of 1950s moms. And, by the way, it is significant that school kids in the 1950s outperformed today's kids at every grade.
When one helps a child on demand, does the child's tolerance for frustration go up or down? Down, of course. As such, the child begins asking for help more and more often. He begins acting less and less competent and more and more needy, helpless and inept. He's likely to begin saying things like “I'm stupid!” and “I can't do anything right!” His mom is equally likely to interpret that to mean he needs even more help than she is already giving. And the situation spirals downward. And, Mom feels like nothing in her life has ever been so stress-filled as raising a child.
One should not give children control of words like “I need” and “I can't.” Your children do not know what they are capable of until they are forced to push the limits of their capability and, in so doing, expand them. My mother understood that, as did most of her female peers.
I figured the math problem out, by the way. My mom was right about most things.
Visit family psychologist John Rosemond's website at www.johnrosemond.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Foreign influx in Allegheny County at ‘tipping point’
- Confident rookie quarterback Manziel erratic early with Browns
- Steelers hope group of low-budget cornerbacks can deliver
- Steelers WR Wheaton wants to produce after injury-plagued rookie year
- Steelers notebook: Ben believes rookie WR Bryant can contribute
- Inside the ropes: Roethlisberger may have his big receiver
- Business Gallery: July 27, 2014
- Construction of $500M power plant in South Huntingdon stalled
- Pirates notebook: Hurdle, Huntington on same page
- Local golf notebook: Fox Chapel graduate to play in Junior PGA event
- Observers mixed on grid backup amid carbon rules, natural gas uncertainty