THE BLOG

Part 2: When Helping Our Kids Starts Hurting Them

07/31/2013 10:54 am ET | Updated Sep 30, 2013
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Do you remember the scenario I presented last week on "When Helping Kids Starts Hurting Them"? I wrote about a 52-year-old mother, Caroline, who actually posed as her 19-year old daughter in order to take a test in her place at school. She put on her skinny jeans, Converse shoes and lots of makeup and entered the room. She was eventually caught and both mom and daughter faced serious charges for their actions. Unbelievable.

A friend just told me of two parents who meet at Starbucks each week for a latte. Sitting together at a table, this mom and dad do their son's homework for him. It's a habit.

Career expert Nicole Williams tells of a situation where she believed she found the perfect applicant to hire for her company, but then Mom called. It was not her mother, but the applicant's mom calling to inquire about every detail of her daughter's potential new job. Needless to say, Williams withdrew her job offer; she wasn't prepared to take the mom on as well.

Why are we so prone to do things like this? Is that really the best way to support our sons or daughters? Are our kids incapable? Are they fragile? If so, did we do this to them? Or are we going beyond our job description as a parent, to remove life's struggles in the name of giving our kids a "better life" than we had? Hmmm. There's got to be a better way.

Teaching Them to Ride a Bike

I've come to believe that parenting our kids is a lot like teaching them to ride a bike. It's a process. We begin by strapping them to us as infants and we do all the peddling. They just enjoy the ride. Next, we give them a tricycle. It has three wheels, so it's difficult to fall off, but they get comfortable peddling themselves. Then, we give them an actual bike, but we initiate them to the experience with training wheels. They're on two wheels, but those extra wheels prevent them from falling. Finally, we remove the training wheels -- and now our help is a tender balance of SUPPORT and LETTING GO. Did you catch that? We must both support them and let go of them if they're ever going to do it on their own.

The EASY Solution
Try these four steps with your students that spell the word: EASY. When your young person is up against a challenge, here's how you can balance support and letting go. It's EASY:

E - Encourage them first.
The best help a parent can offer first is to sit down and offer encouragement. They need to hear someone they respect tell them: "I think it's in you to do this. You have what it takes." Encouragement is the oxygen of the soul.

A - Ask Questions next.
Look at the problem with your child. Ask them questions that will help them do the critical thinking they need to do to solve it. Questions are almost always more helpful than spoon-feeding them possible answers. It teaches them how to think.

S - Simulate a problem.
Come up with a similar problem and walk them through how to solve it, so they can apply that skill to problems they've been given by their instructor. In other words, instead of merely talking about it, help them "practice" the skill they must learn.

Y - Yoke Them with a Peer.
Like oxen in a yoke together, connect them to other students who do understand the work. Yokes enable two oxen, a weaker and stronger one, to co-labor. Build a bridge to a solution through a peer-mentor, rather doing the work for them.

My friend, Andy, told me his son, Wyatt, was struggling to keep up in his math class. At the end of the semester, when Andy asked his 10-year old son how he was doing, Wyatt broke down in tears. Because he had failed an exam, he was unable to attend a pizza party the entire class enjoyed. (Wyatt was the only kid who didn't get to go). Instead of marching down to the school and trying to make the problem go away, Andy decided to encourage Wyatt and ask where he needed help. By the end of their conversation, Wyatt told his father he never wanted to miss another pizza party again. Determined to succeed, he got online and signed up for a mentor at Math-nasium. Thanks to a great dad, Wyatt is improving at both math and life skills. Not bad for a ten-year old kid.

Here's to equipping our kids to be ready adults -- which is the help they really need.