Next time you’re about take over your child’s science project or even make their bed, put down the poster board and leave the sheets where they lie. While we may want to do everything we can to make our kid’s lives easier, we shouldn’t.
There’s a fine line between being supportive and doing too much for our children. Here, two child-development experts offer five ways to gently sway you away from becoming a helicopter parent. Bonus: these methods will help your child become more independent and confident.
1. Create Little Helpers
If your kids are young, it’s easier to get the idea of doing chores ingrained in their heads. For a preschooler it’s as easy as saying something like “When you finish playing with those blocks, the next part of play is putting them away,” suggests Margaret Owen, PhD, director of the Center for Children and Families at the University of Texas in Dallas.
2. Direct over Do
If your school-age child hasn’t gotten in the habit of doing chores, don’t despair. Just be patient. It’s tempting to get frustrated when your child doesn’t clean up his room or put his clothes back in the closet — but maybe he doesn’t know how. “Did you talk about where his backpack should go after school?” Dr. Owen says. “Or does he know where the knives and forks go when setting the table? You have to patiently demonstrate those tasks.”
3. Give Her a Say
The best way you can prompt independence in your child is to make sure he or she is participating in the running of the household. “Say things like ‘How about you help me plan the menu for dinner’ or ‘how about you help me fold these clothes,’” says Vicki Hoefle, a parenting expert in Seattle and author of Duct Tape Parenting (Workman, 2012). “Life is about helping out. Kids don’t need coaxing, elaborate systems or rewards so long as the chore is a job they can handle.”
4. Have Faith
By doing things for your children instead of letting them try, you’ll ultimately make your kids question their ability to do anything for themselves. “Our children determine their self-identity based on how we as parents see them,” says Hoefle. “Think about the message you’re sending to your child by saying ‘Let me help you,’ ‘This looks too hard’ or ‘It’ll be easier if you do it this way,’” she says. “After all, these benign statements affect a child’s sense of herself.” When your kids do make the effort, avoid hovering over them or criticizing the quality of their work. “Think about how you would feel if someone did this to you,” Hoefle says. “The answer is always that you’d feel lousy.” The laundry may not be folded perfectly and there may be a missed math problem or two, but with practice and encouragement, your children will improve.
5. Be the Support
If you think of your child as a building and that your job is to be the scaffold, you’ll be parenting in a way that sets up your child for life. “As her scaffold, your job is to prop her up when she needs you,” Dr. Owen says. “Ultimately, your job is to then take away some of the layers of the scaffold as she gets stronger.”