Do You Step in Too Often?


I often wonder if I allow my children to work out their own problems enough. Problem solving is certainly a skill I want them to develop, so wouldn’t it be best if they actually walked through the process a lot of times rather than me always helping them figure things out?

This past week in our house we had several situations that offered opportunity to allow my kids to problem solve. One worked out just the way I would have liked, the other not so much. Being a blended family, we have certain limitations and considerations when parenting our kids. We realize ultimately we only have control over what happens at our house, so if a situation arises and our children are at the other parents’ house, it complicates things a bit. Not only do I have to discuss a situation with my husband with regard to our kids, but then I also have to discuss it with my kids’ dad, so it is tougher. There are really three parents in the picture.

My middle son had a problem where there appeared to be some missing assignments from his student file in Science. He was sure that he turned them in and he and his dad did not agree on how to handle this, he was at his dad’s house. I was called mid-way through the discussion to be invited to go to the school the following day to meet with the teacher. I decided to go to learn more about what had happened. We were all waiting for the teacher to arrive when my son’s dad said that our son was not excited about us being there and he was probably a little embarrassed. Of course, our son is 13! I started talking to our son and asked him if he had wanted to discuss the situation with the teacher himself, with out us there and he said yes. Unfortunately it was a little too late for this to happen now, so we waited and met with the teacher. Ultimately the teacher wanted to meet with our son and discuss a few options to remedy the situation, rather than work it out with the parents – leaving our son to what our decision was. I thought that was a great idea. My son’s dad did not really like that answer. As we walked out I was trying to explain to him that wouldn’t it be best if our son learned how to handle this type of situation now, when he is 13? He is sure to have other issues with teachers in the future and the experience he could gain from actually doing it now will benefit him. I had trouble convincing him of my take on the situation. You see, if my son had been at our house instead of his dad’s when this came about, I would have offered my son the opportunity to try to take care of this on his own BEFORE I stepped in. I would prefer to allow my children to take responsibility and ownership of a problem and learn how to handle it, rather than feeling like I have to step in. This creates wonderful opportunities for problem solving skills, developing the ability to relate and discuss situations with adults and solve issues. Aren’t these the types of skills you want your child to develop?

I have to say that even though the situation started a little differently than I would have liked, the end result was that our son spoke with the teacher on his own and figured out a solution to the problem that was good for both of them. I was happy, my son had solved the issue, learned the process and will be able to draw on that in the future.

I keep reminding myself that I need to continue to step back as much as I can to allow my children to take responsibility for themselves and start managing a lot of their situations themselves. This is hard as a parent, you have to allow them to struggle, get frustrated or even angry at you because you won’t step in and solve it for them. But I can guarantee the satisfaction they will get from knowing they did it on their own will be invaluable! The next time a situation arises where you think it might be time to allow your child to solve it on their own, step back. Allow them the opportunity and then be there to support and encourage them. They may just completely surprise you by what they can accomplish!

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  • Eren Mckay

    This is very true. One of the things that I always remind myself is that I won’t be around forever. I need to get them ready for life and for the situations that they will encounter as best as I can. Stepping back and giving them the space to figure things out now will definitely give them the experience that they need to solve issues that they will face as an adult.
    Great points!
    All the best,

  • Tiffany

    When I have trouble doing this my husband says to me “Do you want to live the rest of your life being their concious?” and of course I do not. We, as parents in general, will complain about having to remind our children over and over and over again to do something or what have you but we tend to not allow them the space to learn to do it on their own. This is a great reminder, thanks Susan.

    I sometimes feel bad that my daughter does not come to me for homework help but I think it is because I will not give her the answer but help her get to it. She has figured out, 5th grade, that she can do it if she gives herself a chance to try. If she is really struggling she will come to me and I am happy to help, not do.

  • Susan

    I love your husband’s comment! It certainly is a different way to encourage you rather than pester you!! Yes, kids can get the anwer themselves at least 80% of the time if allowed the time to solve it, you are correct. The hard part is US giving them that space. I love that you will not just give her the answer…..Great Job!

  • deb williams

    yes, and i would add that it is best to do this in elementary and middle school because if you wait until high school, it is a catch 22 of wanting them to learn to problem solve, but knowing that they may fail and then that will affect the grades, and in high school, EVERY GRADE COUNTS, so you’re tempted to step in to solve it just so the grades stay up, but the kids don’t learn and it just is a no win situation for everyone. can you tell i am right in the middle of this now???

    i have learned with the older one and am trying to really step back with my 13 year old. we’ll see how it works out. lord knows he has his own set of issues!

    great post!

  • Susan

    Thanks for your comments!! Your suggestion to try it early is worth repeating! :-)