Letting kids work things out by themselves

My best friend from college moved to England this summer, and the person who was going to keep her dog for her backed out at the last minute. Since we have the same kind of dog (Maltese), I offered to take her until they got settled and made a decision about whether or not to have her flown over in the fall or find another owner. (Maybe even us?)

Bunny didn’t have a hard time adjusting to our family, but she wasn’t at all interested in our dog, Yuki. In fact, she was downright annoyed by her. Not only was she totally bugged by Yuki’s attempts to play with her throughout the day, but she was clearly put out by the thought of having to share her people. It was pretty funny for us to watch Bunny growl at every move Yuki made, but they really needed to figure things out between them or they were going to be miserable.

I found it interesting that we couldn’t do jack diddly squat about their relationship issues. You can’t really reason with or lecture to a dog, and it’s not like we were going to give them separate bedrooms or something. Simply put, they had to work things out for themselves.

This whole scenario got me thinking about helicopter parenting and how often we try to dive in and fix things for our children at the slightest hint of trouble. If I saw another child “growling” at my youngest daughter (my “puppy”) simply for inviting them to play, would I just stand back and giggle? Probably not, but at the same time, I’m pretty cautious about coming immediately to the rescue.

With school starting this past week in our neck of the woods, and four kids in four schools at four very different stages of childhood, there’s a lot of potential this year for issues–relationship and otherwise. What happens if my high schooler starts to frequently miss her 7am bus? Will I just take her to school? What if my middle schooler can’t manage his time and school projects very well? Will I just “help” him with it (do it for him)? What if my elementary age daughter frequently has questions about her homework? Will I just email the teacher myself? And what if my kindergartner has “relationship issues” with another child? Will I call that child’s mommy?

I’m not saying we should never step in and intervene when our kids need our help. Not at all. What I am saying is that we should be thoughtful about when we do step in so that we don’t inadvertently rob our children of the opportunity to learn how to deal with difficult people and situations as well as the self-confidence that comes from knowing they actually did it.

As for Bunny and Yuki, it took a couple of weeks, but they did, in fact, work it out. Now they have daily wrestling sessions, sniff each other in all the right places without growling, and even share the same food and water bowl. Isn’t it safe to assume our kids have at least as much sense as these two dogs in facing their own challenges this coming school year? (Just don’t tell me any of my kids used the old “the dog ate my homework” excuse!)

QUESTION:  Are you a helicopter parent? Do you jump in and try to fix things at the slightest hint of trouble?

CHALLENGE:  If so, try to back off a little bit this year and see what they can do for themselves. You may both be surprised!

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