I’m currently reading Annie Fox’s book, Teaching Kids to be Good People. It’s a delightful anthology of parenting ideas, tips, helpful examples, and scenarios to consider. Annie will be interviewing me for her podcast in a couple of weeks and I wanted to read her book before the interview. I’ve asked her permission to post one of her sections as my Great Dad Tip of The Week this week. Well worth the read in pondering the question, Should I help my kids with their homework or not?
Here are Annie’s thoughts and words below. Thank you, Annie, for sharing.
“Auugh! I don’t get this stupid homework!!!” your seventh grader wails. Devoted parent, you rush in and . . . do what? What kind of help is the right kind? Depends on your endgame, right?
Your basic job description: “Prepare your child to become an independent, fully functioning young adult.” (If you’ve never read that anywhere, look at the bottom of your kid’s birth certificate. It’s there in the fine print.)
So . . . when your daughter groans or your son bellows, your most helpful move should be in the direction of supporting and encouraging them to work things out on their own. If your brand of “help” means you’re doing the heavy lifting, crisis after crisis, year after year, you’re not being all that helpful.
But we are parents and we like helping our kids. Of course, we do. In fact, on a cellular level, we’re programmed to help and coach them, which is how they learn. And if we want them to grow into cooperative, good-hearted people, we start by helping them. That shows them what helping looks like and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a helpful act.
Well-intentioned as our help may be, the “Let me tie your shoes” variety isn’t supposed to last forever. Each time we help a child, we ought to provide instructions for identifying the problem, thinking through options, and making smart choices. That way, the next time, that child is more likely to resolve the challenge on his own, wisely and with confidence.
But when the only tool in a child’s problem-solving kit is “get Mom/Dad to do it,” it’s harder to develop the skills and self-esteem that comes from being independent and responsible. Seems obvious, right? But less obvious is the fact that when we rush in with solutions, we might also teach kids they aren’t capable of helping themselves or anyone else. Let’s think about that one.
If I’m a kid who routinely turns to Mom/Dad, who is all too happy to “save the day” (again), I may start believing that I’m helpless, hopeless, and useless. I might resist tackling my own problems. (“I never do it right.”) I may also hold myself back from stepping up and helping others. (“Why bother? I’ll just make things worse!”)
To teach kids the value of helping, we need to catch them in the act of following their kinder instincts. Let them know that what they just did for you, their sister, their friend, was very cool and you’re proud of them. When they’re stumped or frustrated, we need to resist the urge to jump in. Instead, we encourage them onward while we step back, little by little. Celebrate their “I did it!” moments and they will eagerly look for other things they can do on their own.
Will kids who are more independent need us less? Well, yeah! From the very beginning, that’s always been the point of this parenting gig. We taught them how to walk and . . . they started walking away from us. It’s true, they won’t always need us, but they will always use what we taught them. And while we’re teaching them self-reliance, we’re also reinforcing our perception that they are the kind of people who care about others. Our perception of them colors their self-perception. We are teaching them that compassion translates into help and being helpful is what we’re all here for.
Quoted by permission from Annie Fox’s book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People.