A recent column elicited sufficient response—some of it arguably positive—that I’m going to pontificate for a few more paragraphs. Apparently how to support without enabling is a thing. Supportive versus enabling is used in the curriculum of addiction and recovery. But supportive versus enabling applies even more broadly to parenting: How can we tell when we’re not doing enough for our kids? How do we know to allow them to do for themselves?
These questions are seldom considered: Is he grateful for homework help? Could he have completed the assignments alone? Kids who can, should. Kids who would fail without support should be scaffolded. Doing stuff for kids that they could do on their own infantilizes them, denies them the opportunity to accomplish and contribute. Insisting that good students be great fractures relationships. No good ever came of expecting more than is feasible. Expecting too little has predictable negative results as well.
Laura arrives late for her tutoring lessons when she shows up at all. She is texting and distracted during her sessions, staring off into space, disrespectful. She refuses to do homework even with infinite patient guidance, preferring social media and video games. When she is motivated enough to speak she complains about her "idiot teachers." Laura needs a reality check and some logical consequences more than she needs more payments to the tutor. "Helping" her with her academics is anything but.
How do we maximize the likelihood of having a Michael and avoiding a Laura? How do we get from here to there? Let’s begin in a slot canyon in Central Utah.
Three-year-old Jimmy’s plastic boots seem ill-suited for clambering over boulders many of which are bigger than he. Trickles of melted snow allow for squishy steps. Jimmy takes my hand when his footing is uncertain. When our path is blocked by three-foot rocks, Jimmy is given hand to hand from one sibling to the next. No instructions were articulated to his eight-year-old brother or his ten-year-old sister. They seamlessly passed Jimmy back and forth through gaps in the rocks. They carried him where a three-year-old could not negotiate the path. When Jimmy could make his way on his own, they let him slog along.