When I was a teen, I used to babysit two sisters. They were only a year apart, but the younger child always asked for help. She liked to ask her big sister to help her get the cereal out of the pantry. And she’d ask me for help coloring a picture. Her older sister loved doing things for her “baby” sister, but the little girl wasn’t a baby anymore. At the time, I thought it was sweet that the younger sister wasn’t afraid to ask for help and wanted others to do things for her. But now, from a mom’s perspective instead of a babysitter’s, I know asking for help all the time isn’t cute or useful.
There are different reasons kids repeatedly ask for help. But unless your child’s in physical distress, there are times you don’t need to step in. If she seems to have simply fallen into the habit of not doing things on her own, you may want to uncover the real cause for her reliance on others. Here are 3 situations and ways to handle a kid who always asks for help.
1. Does she ask questions she already knows the answer to?
“What time do we have to leave for school?” my daughter asked one morning. She knew the answer because I’d answered it many times before. Instead of answering the question yet again, I threw it back at her: “What time do we always leave?” She paused and thought. I could see the wheels turning. “7:45?” she asked, and I grinned my answer.
Another option would be to remind her she can tell time. To get to the answer without giving it to her, point to a clock and say, “How much time do we have until we go?” If she gets the answer right, you know she remembered the departure time and didn’t need help. And if she asks again the next day, you can say, “You already know the answer.” According to licensed clinical therapist Allison Edwards, “[K]ids who receive help don’t get to feel the full reward of feeling successful on their own.” And this makes sense. Putting the question back to your child will help build her confidence in her own abilities, including the ability to remember information she’s already been given.
2. Does he ask you to do things he could easily do himself?
I think the little girl I babysat for liked my attention. She asked for my help a lot. “Can you help me put on my pajamas?” she asked one evening. I indulged her at the time because she was so cute! But not long ago, my own daughter wanted me to brush her teeth every night. She was fully capable of doing it, but she would stand there with puppy-dog eyes until I gave in. I finally decided she could do it herself and it has freed up the evenings just a little bit more.
There are other ways to handle a kid who always asks for help. If you know your child can do the task himself, set a timer for three to five minutes. Then have him try it himself. If he quits and moves on to other things, it wasn’t that important to him. Say, “After you try for five minutes, I’ll help you.” If he succeeds, make a big deal out of it and praise him for it. “Good job, kiddo! You did it! I knew you could!” This allows him to feel the success he wouldn’t have felt if you stepped in.
3. Does she ask you for help doing something difficult before trying it herself?
I remember watching my friend’s daughter wobble at the end of a low balance beam, her hands out to reach her mom before she even lifted the second foot off the ground. “Help me?” she asked. Her mom stayed wisely nearby—in case her daughter slipped—but out of reach. “You can do it, Maddy. Take small steps.” When the little girl made it to the other end of the beam several minutes later, she had a smile so big it filled her tiny face!
Whether it’s a kid who wants help building a fort or help tackling a homework problem, give her the space to try first on her own. It could be that your child is afraid to make a mistake and doesn’t want to risk failing. “Kids who immediately ask for help,” Edwards says, “are often perfectionists who have a low frustration tolerance.” It’s better to step back while your kids are young and let them struggle and fail than to always be there to fix things for them.
It’s better to step back while your kids are young and let them struggle and fail than to always be there to fix things for them.
What are some more ways to handle a kid who always asks for help?
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