Raising a child is not about controlling a child, nor is it about catering to her. It’s about developing her self-care and her concern for others. You are increasing her autonomy and establishing a mutually respectful relationship in which obtaining her endorsement is more valuable than ordering her around. Communicate to her, “We’re in this together, so let’s solve it together.”
Neglecting a child is unacceptable, but over-accommodating a child can interfere with the development of a balanced relationship and stagnate your child’s autonomy. But some parents may frequently make accommodations on behalf of their child that are excessive. If they are prone to guilt, they might frequently over-accommodate. Single parents especially may over-accommodate due to guilt that their child has been through their parents’ divorce, because they feel that they have denied the child due to working too many hours, or because the child has experienced abandonment from the other parent.
Some parents are eager to please their child because of their own deprivation as children. These parents do not want their child to suffer as they have suffered. Some may over-accommodate to ease a traumatized child’s pain. They meticulously resolve problems so that the child will not have to endure additional hardships or risks. Some may accommodate their child, because they believe the child is too disabled to meet expectations. Some may excessively do for their child, because they are rushed and have no time to let the child learn from her own mistakes. Some are concerned about not being good enough, and they excessively please to gain acceptance. And some take most of the responsibility in the household because that is what they learned to do when they were growing up.
Whatever the reason or justification, over-accommodation can get in the way of the development of a child’s self-management and willingness to meet others halfway. We all may wish to make things easier for our children, but children must also learn that struggling is part of life. The difficulty, of course, is striking a balance between expecting too much and settling for too little. While you may be creating a bond with your child by doing something pleasing for her, you may be fostering behavior that will not allow her to function without your input.
As parents, we may like it when our children feel close to us, secure, and cared for, but we also want them to develop self-reliance so that they can do for themselves when we are not around. If you simplify a task or give your child clues to a solution before she has put in a reasonable amount of effort, you are being supportive, but she is not learning to exert herself. If you remind her to take her belongings, she might not learn to remember them without your prompt. And if you are eager to help her with her coat, it certainly saves time and makes things easier, but you also delay the time when she learns to put her coat on independently. On top of that, you may be creating quite a burden for yourself and grow to resent this arrangement in the future.
So keep two goals in mind. You want to maintain your emotional connection with your child, and at the same time, develop her self-sufficiency so that she can fly on her own. Your child may not like having increased responsibility at first, but she will benefit from her impressive set of skills and perhaps help others gain self-reliance along the way.
Craig B. Wiener Ed.D. is a licensed psychologist, clinical director, and faculty member at the University Of Massachusetts Medical School. He is the author of three books on attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. His most recent publication, Parenting Your Child with ADHD: A No-Nonsense Guide for Nurturing Self-Reliance and Cooperation, offers parents a powerful drug-free way to eliminate ADHD behavior.