Helping By Not Helping

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As parents we all want the best for our kids and we hope our experience and knowledge will help them as they try to navigate through friendships and school but some lessons our kids have to do on their own.

When my oldest had school projects to do, I wanted to offer my help. I would suggest theme ideas, type up documents, even cutout or draw images. It would be obvious on presentation day, when poster boards or dioramas were brought in, that other parents felt the need to help their kids too. Of course I’m making assumptions. I can’t judge another child’s ability or creativity but I would hazard a guess that the glass enclosed menagerie with live plants wasn’t completed by the grade two boy that sits next to my daughter.

My point is I found myself compelled to help my daughter complete her assignments, that somehow she lacked the skill to complete the project the way it should be completed, the way the teacher would expect it, the way I envisioned it to be put together.

Fast-forward a few years and many projects later.

With my son I thought I would handle things differently. I decided he would benefit more from me not helping him. This doesn’t mean I sat him in the dining room on his own, closed the door and walked away until he was finished. I offered him guidance, asking questions on his topic to help him get over research or idea roadblocks. I even corrected a sentence or two for grammar and spelling but the project was all his work. He did the research and cut out his images. I bit my tongue when the edges weren’t straight. He laid out his content and put his presentation board together. I stopped my hands from moving things around for a more ‘balanced’ look.

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It’s true he voiced some concern that his project wouldn’t look good enough or that he would mess it up but the more he worked on it (the more I curbed my need to ‘fix it’ or ‘make it right’) the more his confidence grew.  Pictures were a little rough and lines a little crooked but it was all his work and he was proud of his finished piece.

Don’t get me wrong I push my kids to do their best. All three of my kids are very bright (says the unbiased mom) and I like to think I can tell when they’re really trying versus when they’re just slapping something together to get it done. I would probe my son with questions on a topic if I felt he wasn’t giving enough detail but I wouldn’t write the information for him.

Sometimes it’s hard to let our kids fumble through choices and decisions but I don’t think always stepping in helps them. I think I helped my son more by having faith in his ability and he rewarded both of us with a job well done.

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