Photo submitted by Stephanie Pletka

On my pre-schooler’s first day of class, an assignment was sent home requesting they create a show-and-tell board. They wanted it to include a description of who he was, number of siblings he has, pictures of the family, and fun activities enjoyed during summer break.

At age four, my son couldn’t write, he didn’t know what the word “description” meant, he couldn’t count to twenty, and they wanted him to do what? So I had pictures developed, bought poster board, and let him do whatever he wanted with his little marker and glue. It looked just like you would have imagined. It was pitiful, funny, and messy.

You should have seen the look of accomplishment on his face; he was beaming with pride as he carried his over-sized masterpiece into the classroom. You should have seen the look on my face as I walked into the classroom and saw the Mona Lisas of artwork: stenciled letters and 3D art images all created by very talented parents. It looked as if PR firms had been hired to design some of the projects. At first, I was embarrassed.  Had I made a mistake? Was it my assignment or his?

Fortunately, he wasn’t intimidated by the professional-looking art projects surrounding his poster. The feelings of accomplishment he obtained from creating the project independently gave him a tremendous sense of pride and security. He made no comparisons whatsoever. Rather, he walked into the room with his head held high as if to say: ‘Look what I did!’

As parents, we obviously want the very best for our children. If I could roll mine in bubble wrap to keep them from getting hurt, I would. But it is really to their detriment when we hover over our kids–intervening in their squabbles with friends, doing their work for them, or negotiating their grades at school. We become an advocate in places we may not belong. It’s okay to give them advice, guide their hearts, help them behind the scenes, but when we fight their battles or navigate their future we can get to the point where it becomes a disservice to everyone involved.

In the CNN.com article How to Ground a ‘Helicopter Parent’, Dr. Nancy Weisman, a licensed clinical psychologist, notes that it’s important for kids to understand that they are not going to be rescued. Otherwise, they may feel a sense of entitlement. In dealing with powerful people, Dr. Ken Haller from the St. Louis University School of Medicine suggests that as parents, if we bully to get our way, it sends a message to our children that we need to be “controversial and adversarial.” He suggests teaching them the “art of negotiation” as a more valuable tool.

While it’s important to be their advocate when they’re younger and their guide and counselor in their teen years, I’ve learned we shouldn’t hover over them to make sure they don’t ever slip and fall. In failure, there are lessons to be learned. There is value in a skinned up knee.

Important information can be gleaned from failure. Some say: Failure is not an option.  I say: Failure is an amazing learning tool. If a child fails, collect data from what went wrong. We can help our children take those mistakes and turn them into successes. Talk to anyone who owns a profitable company, and they will tell you, more character was built during failure than in victories. Learning to deal with failures now, while the stakes are small, can be excellent training for adulthood when failures can be far more serious.

If a child fails an assignment or misses a class, have them meet with the teacher instead of you. This teaches accountability. If your teen didn’t complete an assignment, let them experience the natural consequences. The best lessons-learned are taught in the “School of Life.”

I’ve found that when I try to rescue my kids, whether through homework assistance or taking their forgotten lunches and uniforms to school, I get in the way of their effort to be the “frontman” in their own lives. They become the ‘slacker’ and I become the ‘grunter’; the resentful-one, guiding the boat with one paddle. Somewhere in the process, they lose the pride and the gratification they could have gained from doing it themselves. Their mentality becomes: ‘Mom will pull me through it.’

Self-reliance is a gift, a game-changer. If we teach them independence they will fly.
The question remains, how do we give our children the resources they need to become responsible citizens?

Give them responsibility. Instead of trying to take the bullet for everything that goes wrong, let them be accountable for the consequences of their choices. We give our children chores at an early age, and make them do their own homework with limited parental involvement. We’ve found they are even competent to fill out camp forms, do laundry, and earn their own spending money. In those self-sufficient tasks, life-lessons will be their best coach.

Each child has unique needs for boundaries as well as innate desires for independence. I challenge you to find places in your parenting where you can hover from afar, allowing your children more room to soar.

QUESTION: How do you handle letting go of the control and allowing your kids the opportunity to learn and grow on their own?

CHALLENGE: Today, try taking a step back when you would normally run to the rescue. Talk to your child about what he or she can do on their own.  Together decide how he or she can be more responsible and accountable.

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