What I tell parents about helping their kids too much

“Be careful you’re not coddling your child.”


“Be sure you’re ready to support your child.”

These thoughts may seem to contradict each other. But I’ve actually caught myself saying both things to the same parent. Talk about confusing!

It’s only natural to want to help your child. And if your child is struggling to do something, you might be tempted to jump in.

But when it comes to helping kids with a task, it’s not always clear when your help is crossing the line between supporting them and what I call “coddling” them. And the answer can change from situation to situation.

This issue can be confusing for every parent once in a while. And it can also be the source of conflict between parents.

I’ve watched parents who are usually calm and in sync passionately disagree about this. Is it better to assist their child with a difficult task or expect their child to do it on their own?

One parent says:

“Struggling through it is how our child will learn best. You’re not always going to be there. Our child has to know how to do it on their own.”

The other parent shoots back:

“You have unrealistic expectations. The work is too hard for our child. Our child will never learn to do it if they’re always so frustrated.”

If you have a child with , learning differences, or another challenge, this debate may sound very familiar to you.

So how do you know if you’re appropriately supporting your child (and not crossing the line)?

For me, this is the test: Can your child do the task without help? If the answer is yes, then jumping in might be coddling. If the answer is no, then stepping in to help is probably supporting your child.

Every parent occasionally helps out their child even when the child is capable of doing something on their own. And that’s OK. But when you make that a habit, it can become a problem.

When it comes to kids with learning and thinking differences, there are two tricky gray areas where the line between coddling and supporting is hard to find. The first is when a task is right on the edge between doable and too hard for your child.

At these times, it’s usually best to have your child try first, then offer help if they get stuck. If your child is hesitant to get started, though, there’s nothing wrong with helping kids at first so they get the hang of it. In fact, this is a good way to figure out if your child can do something on their own or truly needs your help.

The second tricky gray area is when a child has trouble consistently being able to handle a task. Sometimes children can do the work on their own, and sometimes they just can’t. This often causes disagreements about whether or not to help.

When this is the case, try to consider your child’s current situation.

Think about what else is going on in your child’s life in addition to the task they’re working on. Your child might be having trouble with friends. Maybe your child had a bad day at school. Or maybe your child is just tired or hungry. These types of things can make it hard for your child to do the task on their own at that moment.

When other factors get in the way, supporting your child through a task isn’t necessarily coddling. But before jumping in, see if there’s a way you can help without just doing the task for your child. Make sure your child plays an active role in getting it done. You could write what your child says, read aloud to your child, or even give an answer but have your child explain how you got it.

We all want to help our kids. Knowing where the line is between coddling and supporting is an important step.

About the author

About the author

Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of Understood since its founding. He’s also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in general and special education.