There’s a saying, “Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a day;
teach him how to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” Which begs
the question: how do we always know if we are teaching others to “feed”
themselves or just handing them something that temporarily helps them,
but prevents their learning how to take on the challenges of life for
This is a common problem in families, as parents often wrestle with
the decision of whether to do something for their child or wait and
watch, as the child learns to handle a new challenge alone or with
minimal assistance. There is often a fine line between choosing to help
or hold back from doing so.
If, for instance, a child is learning to tie her shoes, someone has
to help her by demonstrating how to do it a few times, then working with
her as she gradually figures out how to create a bow. That’s really a
good metaphor for any time we are teaching something. We need to
demonstrate by our own actions how something is accomplished, then be
available to guide the other as they try it for themselves, followed by standing
back and cheering them on as they take over doing it. This learning
process, by the way, is how we all gain confidence.
Still, it can be tricky to know how to handle many situations.
Parents of teens have been known to do such things as pay fines for kids
who get a speeding ticket, believing that they are doing their child a
favor. But they are not—because someone old enough to drive should be
responsible enough to follow the law in the first place, and handle the
consequences—no matter how difficult, if they make a choice to disregard
Parents err if they write excuse notes for kids who
skip school or don’t do homework, (or worse, do the homework for their
child). But, if a child is truly struggling to handle schoolwork, it sends a message of caring to your child and respect to the
teachers if you and your child go and talk to the teacher and outline a
reasonable remedial solution—whether it is you helping your child
gradually gain mastery of a subject or having the teacher or a tutor do
Our job as parents is not to assure ourselves that our kids get an
easy path through life (though we wish we could do that) so much as to
ensure that they gradually, with our loving support, learn to handle
challenges and take on the responsibilities of meeting the world when
they are on their own.
At times it can be difficult to avoid getting caught in patterns of
doing too much for your kids. If this is happening in your family,
consider family therapy to help re-establish guidelines that can help
you know how much “help” to provide your kids.
Copyright Kathi Whitten 2008