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Stepping Back

Stepping Back

Most of you have probably heard the term “helicopter parent.” It’s a relatively new term for parents that are over-involvedin their children’s lives. Colleges have reported increasing concerns with students who can’t seem to handle basic issues and conflicts—a result (they surmise) of children who had parents that stepped into every little issue and handled it for their offspring.

Life is full of discomfort. When they are babies, parents have to actively help their children avoid physical discomfort by changing them and feeding them and helping them to sleep. Later on, we find ourselves keeping them safe and helping them to learn about the world around them.

But sometimes, parents continue to treat their kids like toddlers, constantly running around after them and making sure they are never uncomfortable. Too much homework? Talk to the teacher about reducing the load. A kid being mean on the playground? Call the school and complain and demand action. Coach not playing your kid enough? Yell at the coach and make him listen.

As with most things, most parents aren’t at the extreme end of the continuum anyway. Most parents are just trying to be good parents. But unless you are willing to evaluate your parenting on an ongoing basis, you could be making some of the same mistakes as the extreme parents.

Here’s a list of questions to get yourself thinking about where your parenting is and some ideas on being more proactive about moving your child towards being an independent and problem-solving adult.

How much is my child responsible for?

This question is for any age child since the responsibilities should reflect where they are in life. Even a four year old can have a few small chores and expectations, but as they grow, they should take on more and more responsibility. This is especially important for households with stay-at-home moms. If mom is home, it’s very, very easy to continue doing things for your kids that they are capable of doing for themselves. Have them take over the laundry or cook a meal once or twice a week. Have them help you pay bills so they start seeing how it’s done and the costs of living. You want to be constantly moving them towards independence.

What is my child’s attitude towards those responsibilities?

Kids respond differently to expectations, so it’s important to look at their attitudes. If a child is hostile or lazy about responsibilities, then that could be a major issue when that child grows up and has a job. Your best bet is to lay the groundwork early on so that pitching in and taking on responsibilities is simply a part of life. That doesn’t mean you won’t have to deal with whining or attitude (deal with that swiftly!), but it will be a steady increase of responsibility rather than a sudden dump.

What is my child’s learning style?

Some kids are very good at keeping many things in their heads without forgetting them. Those super achievers are great but not every kid is like that. Chances are you will have one or two kids who really struggle with taking care of their responsibilities even if they have good intentions. Those kids may need better strategies and it can be a bit of a scavenger hunt to figure out what will work best for them. Maybe they need a visual reminder in the way of a dry erase board on their wall. Maybe they a need a schedule written out so they know what to do. Perhaps they need to sit down and plan out studying strategies to help them study better. The key is to step in and help them figure out what will work, then step back again and let them learn.

How do I respond to failure?

This is an important question because your own thoughts and feelings about failure (messing up) will affect how your kids feel about it. To expect or demand perfection is never healthy, so kids need to understand that they will fail now and then. And when they do, they will learn from it and grow and can try to do better next time in some way. Some kids need to hear out loud that it’s okay to mess up out so they won’t be strangled by fear, while other kids might need to be a little more concerned about it than they are. Either way, it’s a topic that should be discussed from time to time.

Do I try to solve all my kid’s problems?

We have to try and solve some. It’s true. But each time there is an issue, really evaluate whether they need you to step in. We find ourselves discussing the issues and helping them brainstorm what to do, and then encourage them to follow through. Our oldest daughter had an issue with a teacher last year – a very legitimate issue. But instead of calling the school, we encouraged her to speak up for herself, to ask questions of the teacher, to make suggestions to solve the problems, and at times, go to the dean at school.

Could we have called the school ourselves and complained? Sure. But then our daughter would have missed out on being responsible for her own education—something she will have to do when she’s away at college. Bad teachers, just like bad bosses or bad co-workers, are a fact of life. Escaping them won’t solve the problem, learning to get through it is a life-long skill.

Parenting never ends but it should change and evolve as our kids grow up, and we have to be willing to step back and let them learn to be functioning members of society.

By: Jeff and Sarah Sumpolec have been married for 19 years and Jeff has been a therapist in private practice for more than 10 years. They have three daughters together and Sarah writes for and speaks to teens. Visit them at

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