Why Fixing Things For Your Child Doesn’t Help


Over the years, I’ve  talked with countless parents who “fixed”  things  for their children—cleaning their rooms, picking up left-behind messes  around  the house, apologizing for their kids, easing their disappointments, or  even  typing their teen’s school papers because they could “type faster.” I  recall  talking to a mother who would stop what she was doing (which sometimes  meant  getting out of bed at night) to prepare elaborate snacks for her adolescent  son  when he was hungry, even though he was more than capable of making his own   food.

In  order for children to learn how to do hard things, you have to let them go  through hard times. There is no way to truly master something without  experiencing it.


These are “responsive” ways of fixing things,  which happen after your child  has already encountered a problem. There are also  parents who try to prevent  problems before they happen, so-called “Snow Plow  Parents”—much like the two  parents I saw on the Steve Harvey Show recently. These two parents  monitored their  teens’ text messages, voicemails, phone calls, emails, Facebook  pages, driving  speed, and used state-of-the-art GPS systems to establish “geo-fences” around  their child’s school and home. (When the child leaves the “geo-fence,” the  parent gets a text.) And keep in mind these were “good” kids  that really didn’t  get into trouble—the parents were simply trying to “fix” the  system so that  trouble would be minimally possible in every way. These are  helicopter parents  to the extreme.

Related:  Do you worry  that you do too much for your child?

So why is this happening? I think that as  technology expands and our kids  are exposed to more and more new things,  parents get more anxious. They want to  protect their children from harm, which  of course is their responsibility. I  think there are also parents who are  perfectionists—in their eyes, the child  never quite does things the way they  would do them, so they take over and do it  for the child so it will be done  “the right way.” And of course, there are  parents whose children have  emotionally blackmailed them so much that they are  too exhausted to ask the  child to fix something on their own.

Whatever the reason, it’s vital that we get  children accustomed to fixing  their own problems and taking care of their own  responsibilities because let’s  face it— you simply will not be able to fix  their problems forever. When  parents don’t hold children accountable to meeting  their responsibilities, a  couple things happen.

1. If you tell your child to “clean this up,”  (for example) and then you eventually  do it for them, then what you say starts to mean  absolutely nothing to your  child. Your authority begins to diminish.

2. All those excuses you make to justify  “fixing” things for your child?  Your child begins to internalize them. They  become a part of who he thinks he  is, and he will use those same excuses to  avoid accountability at school, and  later on when it’s time to find a job.

Eventually, your child will learn that if he  acts like he can’t do it,  someone will come around and do it for him. This is  what we call “learned  helplessness.”

Related:  How not to create an overly-dependent adult  child.

Why Do Parents Fall  into the “Fix-it” Trap?

There could be many reasons why parents might  fall into this pattern of  doing for their children what they can really do on  their own. Let’s take a  closer look at some of the main reasons.

    1. Pity or guilt. Perhaps your child is adopted, your ex is a  dead-beat parent, you have a  relative who is ill, or there has been loss,  divorce, or trauma in the family.  Or maybe your child has a learning disability  or has trouble fitting in with  peers and making friends at school. These are  all situations in which parents  might feel guilt or pity for the child. One way  parents deal with that guilt or  pity is to take on some of the child’s  responsibility as their own so their  child can feel less burdened or cope with  their challenges more easily.
      Children who are  experiencing hardship need structure and they need to be  taught coping skills  and functional skills perhaps even more than your “average” child. Hardships will  only cripple your child if you treat your child  like he can’t handle them. It’s  important that you let your child know you  believe they are strong and  resilient by maintaining your expectations because  you are the mirror that will  impact your child more than any other. The image  of them that you reflect is  what you will get back.
    2. Parental anxiety.Some parents simply struggle emotionally  with seeing their child feel  uncomfortable. It’s a very parallel process: The  child struggles and feels  miserable, and in turn you struggle emotionally and  feel miserable as well. In  order to avoid these uncomfortable feelings, many  parents will step in and take  over for their child. They feel better, breathing  a sigh of relief at having  avoided this huge emotional burden for themselves.  But the child misses out on  an opportunity to practice valuable life skills and  coping techniques. When you  step in and “fix” things for your child because you  want to avoid your own  difficult emotions, you are robbing your child of a  growth opportunity which  may never come again. In order for children to learn  how to do hard things, you  have to let them go through hard times. There is no  way to truly master  something without experiencing it.

Related:  Does anxiety  about your child’s future keep you up at night?

  1. Your child has trained you.An acting-out  child’s favorite parent training tool is emotional  blackmail. This happens when  you say “no” to your child or tell your child to  do something he doesn’t want  to do. Their attempts to get their way by whining  and pleading turn into  crying, screaming, throwing things, or worse. James  Lehman calls this “One-way  Training.” Parents all over  the world walk on eggshells around their acting  out children, doing much more  for them than they really should in order to  avoid the next apocalyptic  explosion. After all, their child acts like  unloading the dishwasher really is,  in fact, the end of the world.
    But, “fixing” things  and doing things for your child in this case comes with  the highest price tag  of all. Not only are you sending your child the message  that you don’t think he  can meet his responsibilities, but you are also sending  him the message that  you don’t believe he can learn to control his emotions.  Your acting-out child  will learn to use this intimidation, bullying, and  abusive behavior in other  settings and in other relationships as he grows  older, if left unchecked.

5 Ways to Stop Fixing It—and Start Letting Your Child Do It  Himself

Depending on the  situation, there could be numerous steps to turn things  around. In some cases,  particularly if your child’s behavior has turned into  physical abuse or if your  anxiety is extremely troublesome, it would be  beneficial to seek the help of a  local therapist for a customized approach and  long-term support. Less severe  cases may improve by trying a few simple  techniques such as these:

    1. Positive Self-talk. Ask yourself who is really benefitting and  what’s in your child’s best  interests—“What does my child really need, and how  can I make that happen?” Your thoughts have a huge influence on your behavior  and your body’s response  to a challenging situation. If you change your  thoughts, you can change your  behavior and calm yourself down. Tell yourself,  “I can handle this. My child is  his own person and not a direct reflection of me.  I am strong and can make good  choices for my child,” etc. These positive  statements can help prevent you from  doing something for your child that he can  really do on his own.
    2. Distraction. If  the  self-talk isn’t enough, find a mental distraction. Get involved in another   activity like cleaning, reading, going for a walk, knitting, or just talk to   your partner, friend, or relative to vent and collect your thoughts. Stop and  think about what will happen if you don’t  fix something. Most likely the sun  will come up tomorrow, and it will be okay.

Related:  How to stop over-functioning for your child.

  1. Hold your child  accountable. Let your child know  what you expect of him and then  restrict a privilege until that task is done.  For example, you might tell your  son you expect him to make amends to his  sister for calling her names this  morning, and that he won’t be able to use his  skateboard until he can show that  he has done that. Or, you might tell your  daughter that she needs to work on  her science fair project for 30 minutes each  night and she won’t be able to use  the computer until that time is up.  If this is something new for you and  your  child, let your child know about these changes ahead of time so he can  make an  informed decision when it’s time for him to make a good  choice.
  2. Give hurdle help and  coaching. There will often be  times when children just don’t  know where to start or they feel too overwhelmed  by how much they have to do.  Or, they might not know what they need to do exactly.  So you do need  to be involved, but  don’t do for them what they can do on their own. You can  help them figure out  where to start, how to break the project up into smaller  bits, how to get help  from the teacher if they are confused. But don’t do the  research for them,  don’t ask the teacher for them, and don’t type it, glue it,  or decorate it for  them! Put down the laptop, and back away. Your child will  not learn how to type  70 words per minute like you unless you let them hen-peck  at 15 words per minute  for a while, just like you did when you first learned.  So help them figure out  the steps, the tools, the techniques, but let them do  the work. Your only job  is to coach and hold them accountable for the  work.
  3. Allow your child to be his own  person. Your child may  begin to show preferences or tastes that  are very different from yours, and at  a very young age. Don’t try to force your  interests on your child. If your  child wants to choose a poster board color  that you hate, or you don’t like the  way she sets up the board for her class  project, stand down. As long as the  requirements the teacher has established  have been met, let your child have the  creative freedom to set it up as she  chooses. Know that there will be times  when you do hold your child accountable,  but they still won’t do what you want  them to do right away. If you have given task-oriented   consequences and coached them, then that’s the best you can do. Your child  will sometimes choose  to fail—often to spite you if they feel you pushing them  too hard.

Related:  Tired of  fighting with your unmotivated child? Learn how to give consequences  and  influence him to make better choices.

If you recognize that you’re doing too much  for your child or trying to “fix” things on a regular basis, be aware that  continuing to do so may prevent  your child from learning adequate  problem-solving skills to manage time, take  orders from superiors, or cope with  unpredictable stressors or unpleasant life  situations. Picture what you really  want your child’s future to be like and  then imagine the complete opposite of  that. If you do too much and fix too  much, you may actually be steering your  child in the other direction.

That could also mean that you have a child  who is too dependent on you.  Children like that often grow into adults that are  too dependent on their  parents. Overly-dependent adult children often drain  their parents’ energy,  resources, and time at a point when the parents’ job  should be done and they  should be enjoying the fruits of their labor. Start  handing some responsibility  back to your child today so that he can start  learning how to deal with this  crazy thing called life. You’ll both be better  off in the long-run.


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