Too Much of a Good Thing: Why We Shouldn't Over-Help

Dr. Jane Nelsen
November 9, 2009

You may have heard about the little boy who felt sorry for the butterfly struggling to emerge from its chrysalis. He decided to help so he could save the butterfly from the struggle. So he peeled the chrysalis open for the butterfly. The little boy was so excited to watch the butterfly spread its wings and fly off into the sky. Then he was horrified as he watched the butterfly drift to the ground and die because it did not have the muscle strength to keep flying.

Like the little boy, parents too often (in the name of love) want to protect their children from struggle. They don't realize that their children need to struggle, to deal with disappointment, to solve their own problems, so they can develop their emotional muscles to develop skills and faith in themselves for the even bigger struggles they will encounter throughout their lives.

A very important perception children need to develop to be successful in life is the belief that "I am capable." Children don't develop this belief by hearing their parents tell them they are capable. They need many experiences to practice their capability. Too many parents are robbing their children of these opportunities-in the name of love.

I'm sure none of you do this, but did you know that some of your neighbors are dressing their children in the morning? And why do you think they do this? Everyone knows -- because it saves time and because the children look better. Their clothes match.

The question your neighbors need to ask themselves is "Which is more important: expediency and looking good for the neighbors or that my children learn to feel capable and competent?" Your neighbors need to realize that when they dress their children, they are robbing them of the opportunity to develop skills and perceptions of capability.

The first thing these parents could do is create a badge for their children to wear that says, "I didn't do it. She dressed herself this morning." Then they can take time for training to make sure their children know how to dress themselves (and realize that sometimes they like their shoes on the wrong feet or their shirts inside out). Next, it would be helpful to get their children involved in the creation of morning routine charts -- and let the charts be the boss instead of them coaxing and nagging. It is much more effective to ask, "What is next on your morning routine chart?" than to nag over and over, "Hurry up and get dressed. We'll be late." Of course, it always helps to get up a few minutes earlier in the morning -- after training children how to set their own alarm clocks so they can avoid the nagging game.

As I will say over and over again-consider the long term effects of what you are doing. Always consider what your children may be feeling, thinking, learning, and deciding.  Are they deciding, "Love means getting others to take care of me" or "I am capable and feel good about taking care of myself and cooperating with others."

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