Encourage your child to make a solid attempt at completing a task before hitting the “Help Me” button. Don’t intervene too soon. And when you do step in, your goal should be to focus your child on what the obstacles are and help come up with strategies to work around them.
Offer guidance, but don’t attempt to “rescue” or control situations for your child. As painful as it may be, and as counterintuitive as it may seem, you can help break the cycle of overdependence by letting him make mistakes sometimes.
Making mistakes and learning from them can lead to better problem-solving in the future. That’s why it’s so important for you to resist the urge to take the reins.
Your child may be struggling in many areas and might welcome a break from struggling with these challenges. But he desperately wants to feel competent. And to do that, he needs to build up a repertoire of skills and strengths.
Help your child build this repertoire by targeting one or two tasks where you can offer support while doing less and less of the planning and participating. Praise his efforts along the way.
What you can say
“I know you’re struggling with your book report, Jacob. Writing can be so difficult. But you’ve already filled out your graphic organizer, and it looks like you’ve come up with several interesting details to include. You’ve worked hard on this on your own, and you’re off to a strong start!”
“Now that your plan is set, what do you need to do? Yes, you’re ready to begin your draft. It might take some trial and error to figure out how to get those details down in good, clear sentences. But remember that you’re learning more with each attempt. Keep up the good work, Jacob. Hang in there!”
Why this will help
Finding a balance between helping kids and giving them the space to figure things out on their own is challenging for all parents—and especially so for parents of children with learning and attention issues.
Over time, helping kids too much can lead to a condition experts call “learned helplessness,” in which children come to believe they can’t do things on their own. The other big issue with parents rescuing kids from frustrations and difficult situations is that this won’t help these children develop effective problem-solving skills.
Your child needs to learn that it’s OK to struggle and fail. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Along the way, it’s important for you to remain positive. Your child needs to feel that you believe he can be successful. He’ll also be more likely to take ownership of a plan if he designs it.
Sometimes it’s tricky business, but you can reinforce your child’s strengths and abilities without reinforcing his need for help. One way to do this is to use any effort on his part as an opportunity for you to provide positive feedback.