What I Tell Parents About Helping Their Kids Too Much

ByBob Cunningham, EdM on Sep 09, 2015

“Be careful you’re not coddling him.”


“Be sure you’re ready to support him.”

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 he’s struggling to do something, you might be tempted to jump in.

But when it comes to helping your child with a task, it’s not always clear when your help is crossing the line between supporting him and what I call “coddling” him. 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 him to do it on his own?

One parent says:

“Struggling through it is how he’ll learn best. You’re not always going to be there. He has to know how to do it on his own.”

The other parent shoots back:

“You have unrealistic expectations. The work is too hard for him. He’ll never learn to do it if he’s 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 him.

Every parent occasionally helps out their child even when the child is capable of doing something on his 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 him try first, then offer help if he gets stuck. If he’s hesitant to get started, though, there’s nothing wrong with helping him at first so he gets the hang of it. In fact, this is a good way to figure out if he can do something on his own or truly needs your help.

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

When this is the case, try to consider his current situation.

Think about what else is going on in his life in addition to the task he’s working on. He might be having trouble with friends. Maybe he had a bad day at school. Or maybe he’s just tired or hungry. These types of things can make it hard for your child to do the task on his 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 him. Make sure he plays an active role in getting it done. You could write what he says, read aloud to him or even give him an answer but have him 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.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.