By Dr. Steven Richfield
One of the challenges of raising children is determining how much to help, guide, and remind and when to give them room to steer themselves. The differences between a “hands-on” and a “hands-off” approach to parenting have far-reaching implications. Some children can truly benefit from more guidance, while others experience help as intrusive and even suffocating. Conflict may arise when kids receive too much or too little parental involvement, leaving parents frustrated and unsure of what to do.
If these circumstances sound all too familiar, consider the following coaching tips to navigate your way to a mutually comfortable helping role with your child:
- Choose a calm time to have a frank discussion with them about the issue. Share your observations of the roles each of you play in the too much vs. too little help drama. Gently bring up the times when they have resisted help but later found it could have led to a better outcome. Balance this discussion with examples of how well they did when receiving no help. Ensure that they understand your goal is for them to become self-sufficient and independent adults who can rely upon their own resources. Invite them to offer their honest perspective on you as a “hands-on” vs. “hands-off” parent.
- Develop a help plan that entails dividing up areas of life where the two of you agree more or less parental help is needed. Where there is agreement, try to detail the ways your child would like to receive help:
- Do they want a single reminder?
- Is it better for you to offer guidance when you find out they have a specific task ahead of them?
- Should you wait for them to request help no matter how much they appear to be struggling?
Don’t dwell on the areas of disagreement over help. Instead, suggest that the two of you place them in the category of “undecided” until future events clarify what level of help appears to be needed.
As you watch events in the “undecided” column unfold in your child’s life, resist the urge to insert comments as they occur. “This is why I think you need my help” will likely backfire, making your child less agreeable to a help plan.
Keep in mind that the timing of comments and environmental context will have a major impact on how well your child accepts what you offer. Consider and/or acknowledge if another parent does not support your view of how much help is needed. Recognize that your message will have the greatest impact when delivered in a loving tone and with words that focus on your child’s happiness and success in the world.
When you offer the agreed-upon help, do so in a manner that displays your confidence in their abilities. This requires an attitude combining your unemotional guidance with praise for their efforts. Suspending your reactions is often a critical requirement for them to try to manage their own.
Dr. Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He has developed a child-friendly, self-control/social skills-building program called Parent Coaching Cards. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-238-4450. To learn more, visit http://www.parentcoachcards.com.
Products by Steven Richfield: The Parent Coach