How to Help an Overly Dependent Child

If you have read our past posts you will have noted that we are big proponents of independence and responsibility. Developing these skills can boost children’s confidence and will give them the tools that they need in school, in life, and later on as adults. When these skills aren’t developed, challenges can arise that impede them from developing into self-sufficient adults. 

A recent trend that we have noticed is overly dependent children. In these instances, children have a hard time trying things on their own, they give up rather quickly, and they immediately ask for help from an adult. In the classroom, these students tend to interrupt lessons or directions being given by the teacher because they fear not knowing what to do or getting it wrong. Even when it is a simple task, they might immediately raise their hand and ask for help because they lack confidence in themselves. Other signs of an overly dependent child, is when children don’t try new things and won’t attempt a problem, project, or activity if they do not have an adult nearby to ask help from. They fear taking risks because they are uncomfortable with not knowing if they will succeed. 

Children adapt to their environment and if adults in their life do everything for them, they begin to rely on that and become overly dependent. They know that someone will come and “rescue” them so they learn that they don’t need to try on their own. This is a challenge in a classroom where a teacher or two have to teach, lead, and support many children. 

Not to worry, it’s never too late to implement strategies if your child has become overly-dependent. Here are some things that can help make a difference:

Let them answer their own questions

If you notice your child asks you questions for everything, you can turn it back on them and guide them in a way that will help them get to the answer on their own. Asking questions like “What do you think?” or “How do you think we can figure that out?” This can help empower children and help them develop self-efficacy. 

Be patient

In the moment it might seem easier to complete a task for your child. A little patience and time can be extremely beneficial. When children learn to do things for themselves they develop high self-efficacy and become empowered.

Let them do their homework independently

When working in the classroom students are expected to complete their work independently. Teachers walk around and assist as needed, but they do not sit with only one child, if you sit with your child and complete their homework with them, they get used to having an adult nearby. Set up an area where they can work independently and you can support as needed.

Practice listening

When your child comes to you with a problem, you don’t always have to fix it. Be there to listen and ask questions, but don’t feel you have to rescue them all the time. When children learn to solve age appropriate problems on their own, it will equip them with the tools to solve bigger problems later on.

If you have gotten used to over-functioning for your child, it can be hard to make changes, it might get worse before it gets better, but it will be very beneficial in the long run to give your child space to grow. It can help to make gradual changes to help your child become more independent.

6 Ways to Help with Perfectionism

One of the many interesting things about teaching is the wide spectrum of students in our classroom. They are so uniquely themselves in so many areas. Take work habits for example, we might have students who rush to get things done, others get distracted by their peers, and others who consistently go above and beyond expectations. And in every class that we have ever had, we always have at least one student who is hindered to complete their projects or work by their own perfectionism. 

These students have such an extremely high expectation on themselves across everything that they do. They struggle when they cannot spell a word correctly, the picture is not drawn as if an artist who has drawn for years has drawn it, the lines are not perfectly straight, or their penmanship is not perfectly neat. They often erase obsessively, fall behind others as they attempt to have precise work, crumple their papers, and start projects over and over again. While we have to push others to be more diligent and put more effort into their work, with these students we have to encourage them to move forward and to not be so hard on themselves.

In addition because of their perfectionist, these students are less likely to try something that they might not be good at. They don’t like the feeling of failure, thus they stick to the things that they know they are good at. When they struggle with something challenging they often become anxious, frustrated, and give up. They are unwilling to take a risk.

If you have a child that tends to be more of a perfectionist, below are 6 ways that you can help them  . . . 

1. Make mistakes. Children learn from observing the adults in their life. Model mistakes for them. We will make mistakes on worksheets, directions, or lesson slides. When they catch them, and they always do, we simply respond with, “Oops! I tried my best, but I am not perfect. No one is perfect.” Throughout the year we model our imperfections and the kids catch on that our class is a place where mistakes are ok.

2. Focus on the process not the end result. When they bring back work or projects, ask them about the process. How did they feel about it? Did they have fun making it? Try not to point out their mistakes or praise the final product. Avoid words and phrases such as “genius” or “you’re so smart.” This can make children believe that they have to be those things. When you focus on how hard a child worked vs. how smart they are, you are helping them develop a growth mindset. They start to realize they can accomplish hard things by persevering. It can open up a whole new world for children.

3. Distinguish between things that are ok being messy and things that should be neater or requires more effort. Sometimes kids cannot distinguish between the two, and with us pointing it out, they can begin to see when they need to put more time into a project and when they don’t. Not every single assignment or project requires students to go above and beyond. 

4. Read biographies of people who made mistakes or failed multiple times, and who still made a difference in our world. The Who Was Series is a great biographical series for kids to help them see that people that we really look up to made mistakes in order to accomplish great things.

5. Give them chances to fail. Let your child experience failure. Enroll them in a new sport, instrument, or STEM class. Play games with them where they lose and fail. More experience with the feelings of failure will be helpful to them. 

6. Tell them how much you love them and care for them even when they make mistakes. You might think they know this, but sometimes they don’t. We are not our work and It’s important that children understand their work doesn’t make them more or less valued. Their capabilities don’t make them more or less valued. 

When you notice that a student or child is showing signs of perfectionism, it is important to give them strategies to deal with it. Perfectionism in childhood can lead to more severe things later in life like social anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Educational Games for Kids

Summer vacation is winding down and it seems that back to school is seen on the horizon. However, we know that for some there are still a few more weeks of summer break left. 

With these long days of summer still upon us, we understand that children might need some extra activities or things to play with. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Research demonstrates that developmentally appropriate play with parents and peers is a singular opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain.”

Play is a fundamental aspect of learning for children. There are a lot of options for toys and games that are available for children today. In our classrooms, we have educational toys and games that our students absolutely adore playing with during free time. And we believe it is important to schedule in free play for kids. This is a great time to allow for choices on what games they are interested in. Games are good for imaginative play, reviewing concepts taught, pre-teaching, practicing skills  . . . and for FUN. 

Below are some educational toys that we recommend for children to play with. Many of these games we have or would love to have in our classrooms.

  1. Video Game Creation Kit
  2. Cardboard Tool Kit 
  3. Build Your Own Marble Coaster
  4. Botany Experimental Green-House
  5. Osmo- Genius Kit for iPad
  6. Osmo- Pizza Co. Game
  7. IQ Builder- STEM
  8. Zingo Sight Words Early Reading Game
  9. Money Bags Coin Value Game
  10. Squishy Human Body Anatomy Kit
  11. Magna Tiles- House
  12. Playstix
  13. Plank Set
  14. Brain Blox
  15. Straw Constructor

Games and play are essential for development. It is important to make time for play at home and in the classroom. At times we may prioritize more structured learning, but as we love to bring up, it is all about balance. This type of development is just as important! 

Check out this resource we found on The Power of Play

Got game recommendations? Let us know in the comments below!

Shame, Judgement, and the Comparison Trap

If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, google her (after you are done reading this of course). She is a shame researcher who has a famous TED talk, has written several books, and recently released a Netflix special. One of the things that she discusses is shame that parents experience. Parent shaming is a real thing and it has to stop. We see parent shaming online, we see it in our schools, we see it at the grocery store, we see it on planes, and we see it in restaurants. There are many parenting styles and you don’t have to agree with all of them, but can we stop judging each other for every little thing?

While we love to give advice and tips on specific areas of raising balanced children in the 21st century, we never want to come off like we are shaming people. Our main advice is always balance. Balance means you do what you can when you can. We find that along with shame are judgment and comparison.  Neither of these are good for your health or your family’s health.

Let’s start off by talking about judgement. It is easy to judge other people. Especially if you don’t know what their day has been like. If a child is throwing a tantrum in a store, most people will immediately judge the parent for it. However, we do not know what the situation is. Perhaps the child missed their nap, maybe they are sick, or just maybe they are a child with special needs. Kids also have a mind of their own and can sometimes be unpredictable. We do not know, so we must not judge.

Shaming a parent is when you put your judgment into action and decide you want to give a parent a look, a piece of your mind, make passive aggressive comments, or even talking behind their back. Your intention is to make them feel like they are doing a bad job, being a bad parent, or have something to be ashamed of.

Before judging a parent (or anyone really) ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know them or their situation?
  • Am I trying to help them or shame them?
  • Does it affect me?
  • Do I have good intentions?

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The other side of judgement and shame is comparing yourself to other people. In the age of social media, we are all bombarded on a daily basis by perfection. People most often will post and share the perfect moments in their lives. The idyllic family hike, the children baking, or siblings playing happily. What is not seen are the fights, the mess, the arguments and struggles that are a part of real life. And yet, the perfection is what we compare our lives to. We feel less than because our house is a mess, we aren’t hiking, and the cake is store bought.

If you are feeling less than, then perhaps take time away from social media. Take your family to the park to play, order a pizza and have a family night in, or have game night with your children. Remind yourself that “This too shall pass,” that the messy, crazy, and hard parts of parenting are only temporary, that no family is perfect, and that all of it is okay.

We as a society have to take the mantel for ending parent shaming and judgement. It is up to us to model for our children to respect and accept others.

What to Do in the Summer: Academics

With summer vacation quickly approaching, this is the time of year when we tend to get many questions from parents about what academics should be done over the summer. We are big proponents of letting summer time be a time for play, fun, relaxation, and exploration. This can be a great opportunity for kids to explore new things, discover a passion, focus on another interest or develop a talent.

If a child is struggling and needs more support in a particular subject, we would suggest doing some academics. However the only time we would suggest getting any kind of tutoring is only when it is actually needed. There should be no rush or pressure to be ahead in school. Depending on the child, it might actually take the joy out of learning and that would be a shame.

If a child ends up being ahead naturally and is really interested in a particular subject, that’s great. You can definitely support them in this area without pushing them or MAKING them do extra work they do not want or have to do. In this case, the child should be driving it and you are either letting them do their thing or finding ways to support their curiosity.

There are things that kids can do to practice skills that are fun and rewarding for them. The key is to keep it light so that it doesn’t seem like work.

Reading

Summer is a great time for kids to discover new interests, and reading is a great place to discover new passions. Kids should learn early on that reading isn’t only for school. Reading for pleasure can be a wonderful, and good for the soul, free time activity. Going to the library and checking out books with your child is a great way to promote reading during the summer. Checking one out for yourself to read will demonstrate to your child that reading is fun, not a chore.

Journaling

It is great for kids to learn how to journal at a young age. They can write about their summer adventures, add in pictures, illustrations, or make it into a scrapbook. Not only will they learn to and begin to reflect on their day, but it allows them to practice their writing skills. While you should tell them to just write and not worry about spelling and punctuation, the more practice they get with writing the more they will grow as a writer.

Writing letters

Writing letters to family members that live in another place could be a fun activity, especially if they were expecting a letter back in the mail. If you go on vacation, you can have them write postcards to their friends or teachers. Again this is a fun way to promote, support, and build writing skills.

Things you can do in moderation

Practice Multiplication Facts

Multiplication facts are often introduced in 2nd and 3rd grade. It is helpful for children to practice multiplication facts during the summer so that they do not forget them and to keep the momentum going as they transition into the next grade. There are a variety of ways to help children practice and memorize multiplication facts. Practicing with flashcards a couple of times a week is one way, but there are also apps that make it more game like. Keep in mind that it is easier and more fun to practice these for 15 minutes a day than for 1 hour once a week.

Review

A little practice of more complex mathematical concepts, such as long division, multiplication, or fractions, whose algorithm is new to students or consists of multiple steps might be beneficial for students for whom these proved to be challenging during the school year. We only ever recommend it as a way to strengthen their math skills and return to school in September with better understanding and more self confidence in math.

Overall, summer should be about rest and relaxation. While a little bit of practice here and there is a good idea, if your child is having a blast at summer camp, a relatives house, at the beach, or anywhere your family decides to spend summer, do not stress about academic summer work.

Our big motto is that everyone should strive for balance. Summer brings great balance to children. The school year is long and full of lots of learning, responsibilities, sport games and practices, and projects. Let children have the summer to be children, eat ice cream, dig holes, swim, play and climb. Those are the main homework assignments we assign our students at the end of the year, and that is what they need to be doing during summer.

Independence & Children

It’s time to talk about raising more independent kids! Teachers and parents need to work together to develop a sense of independence in our children. It is essential for their development and their future. We need to remember that children will grow up, and it is our job, as parents and teachers, to help them become independent and successful adults. Independence gives them a sense of purpose and responsibility and will help them grow into a more balanced child and will make them better prepared for the real world. Not only that, it will free up some of your time as a parent and some of our time as teachers.

We currently live in a time where it is becoming more common for kids to rely on adults to make every decision for them, to speak up for them if a challenge arises, and to save them from every mistake. Or even worse, not even allow them to make mistakes. Adults inherently want to protect children from all the harm that we conceive there is in the world, however by protecting them from everything and doing everything for them, we are taking away their sense of responsibility, problem solving skills, and independence. The very things that that will set them up for success in the real world.

According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Stanford Dean, overparenting leaves kids unprepared for college. We happen to agree, and moreover we feel overparenting can leave kids underprepared for elementary school too. We see it in our classrooms on a daily basis with students not carrying their own backpacks, parents unpacking them for them, parents turning in their homework, forgotten items constantly dropped off throughout the school day, and never ending emails from parents to do and tell children a variety of things. Parents have constant access to their child throughout the day and it is playing a role in delayed independence in kids.

Children start to naturally develop independence at two years old.The National Association for the Education of Young Children give tips on how you can start that development at a very young age. It takes time and effort, but will pay off immensely when it is time to send your child to school. If slowly each year you continue to give your child more responsibility, your child will become increasingly more independent.

We understand that it is difficult seeing your baby grow and become more independent. Sometimes it feels like it happens too fast and we try to hold onto the idea of our children as the babies they once were. However, if we continue to do this, we set them up for failure, so here are some recommendations to help your child be more independent at home and at school.

Drop Off

Drop your child off at school, and let them walk into their classrooms on their own. Starting in kindergarten they are capable of walking into their classes independently and following the morning procedures. By allowing them the autonomy to do this, children begin to feel responsible and capable. Over the years, we have seen many stressful morning drop offs whereupon the child cries and the parents coddle them in attempt to soothe the child. This often heightens the situation and does the opposite of what is intended. We promise that once you drop off your child, she or he will calm down and join in on the fun of school. Usually within five minutes.

Backpacks and Supplies

Let your child carry their own backpack. We see many parents continue to carry the backpacks of older kids. Let’s set them up early on to carry their own things. They can do it, and again it makes them feel empowered to be able to do it.

Unpacking and Packing

Put the responsibility on your child to unpack and pack their own backpack. If you develop a routine and have a school spot at home, this will save a lot of time and headache in the long run. Have a basket where they can place school papers for you to look through or have a special time when you go through it together. Items that go into the backpack should only be placed by the child. If they didn’t put it in, they most likely won’t know or remember it is there. We understand that it takes longer for parents to ask their children to put things in their backpack, and by doing it for them, you are saving time in the short term. Something that takes longer now, will set them up for success in the future.

Homework and Projects

Let your child do their homework and projects on their own. Of course you can assist them when they have a question or help them if they need an extra hand putting a project together. Don’t let a little hand become a takeover. Projects should be their ideas and their hard work. When we do our children’s work for them, we are sending a message that they hear loud and clear: yours isn’t good enough. This has a major effect on their confidence and risk taking and they will fear doing things independently.

Chores

Having chores at home is a classic way to develop responsibility and independence in children. They are capable of much more than we think and in the younger years, they actually really love to be a helper. For more information on age appropriate chores check out House Wife How-Tos: Chores That Kids Can Do.

Getting Dressed

At 4 and 5 years old children can start to get themselves dressed with limited parent involvement. A skill that is easily taught and goes a long way, is how to turn an article of clothing that is inside out to right side in. We would think that this would be second nature, but it is a skill that needs to be taught to school age kids. Imagine 20 kids trying to get one teacher to help them put on their jackets in the winter. That’s when we stop the main curriculum and have a “how to put on your jacket tutorial.”

These skills are really important for development and should not fall by the wayside. We already know that academics are important, but again kids need a balance. These skills are essential to help your children in the real world. And these are just some ways to help develop more independent kids. Certainly, there are many more ways to teach independence to children, and every child is unique. We understand that if your child has any special needs that not all of these things will work for your family and you have to do what works for your personal situation. We are also not trying to shame anyone or say that you need to be perfectly doing these things all the time. We want to help educate and partner with you to help raise more balanced and independent kids in this very busy, ever changing world we live in. When studies show that kids are increasingly more dependent, not developing basic responsibility, and unprepared for the basic rigors of life after high school, we need to take a step back, get to the cause, and make some changes. Even if it feels like these changes are going back to a simpler time, they are skills that hold strong in society today.

Balanced Children

We all want what is best for our children. We want what will serve them well presently and in the future. This way of thinking and the countless other pressures within the child rearing community lead us to think about the importance of getting children involved in after school activities, get tutoring on the weekends to get ahead, and have every moment of the day scheduled.

Now, more than ever, “home life” is dwindling. As adults, there is an urgency to spend nights and weekends “getting ready” for something: after a party is finished, there is another one to start thinking about; when a project has finally passed and all the preparations have paid off, there is the next project for another client; once the lasagna has been prepped for the week, it is time to start thinking about next week’s meal prep. All this has created a culture that spends a lot of time thinking ahead, but not enough time living in the moment. It has created a schedule that puts an individual more on the go, and less inside the home.

Unfortunately, this ideology is popping up sooner in life. How many times are three-year-olds signed up for soccer, ballet, or early coding “to help find their passion?” HINT: A child should be signed up for these activities because they can’t stop kicking any movable object at home, is twirling and moving to every kind of music, or are at least five years of age to truly start any valuable computer interactions. Children should dictate any extracurricular activity because passions are found through self-discovery.

Extracurricular

Every year during parent conferences, parents convey the pressure they feel to sign their kids up for extra classes after school and on the weekends because they hear other parents doing it. Unfortunately, an afterthought when planning extracurricular activities is the transition from one to another. Students come to school exhausted and unprepared to face the rigors of academia because they have spent 2.5 hours in traffic to get to their after-school activities the day before. Downtime is only actually relaxing when it occurs in a comfortable space. Parents of sleep-training children might remember that a nap in the car seat in between errands is not the same as a nap in the crib.  Resting in the car in between activities is not and should not count as “down time” for school-aged children.

Our advice is always the same: if your child does not actually need extra support, let them spend their extra time on something that makes them happy. Or better yet: let them figure out what to do with their own time. Some parents feel the pressure to be ahead in certain academic subjects, but what’s the rush? Kids are growing up way too fast and need more balance.

It might seem logical to think that your child will get an upper hand by being enrolled in any of the many tutoring programs that promise precious 1:1 time with your little one. However, in a culture that values the ability to effectively collaborate as a strong suit, your child will probably benefit more from spending his free time reading or playing by himself and bringing his discoveries to playdates with his peers. When children are genuinely interested in something, they have elaborate discussions about the topic with their peers, even more so compared to structured discussions in class. They recall events from books they have read or listened to or movies they watched, and dissect them with their friends. They might identify and enumerate all the spells from Harry Potter, discover patterns in the Percy Jackson series, or debate over which superhero has the best super powers. How many times have we seen children play house, where the parent takes care of the babies and the babies act extremely needy, wanting the constant attention of their mommy?

A child’s unstructured time entertains the possibilities of organically thinking through depth and complexity. Children who are given ample opportunities to “kick the can” make these valuable discoveries on their own. They might label and identify their thinking with icons in class, but we need to remember that these are prompts that naturally occur in the way children spend their free time–whether they are working on their own or interacting with their friends and family. It is important for children to receive information, whether it is from school, a walk around the museum, or a family trip to Yosemite. However, it is equally important for them to have time to digest all the information and interpret it internally or with their peers. This is when their curiosity peers through and new discoveries are made.

Home

Home is a safe space for children where they can rest, eat, play, and rejuvenate. Enjoy this time at home where you’re not rushing off to the next activity. Our children need this time to remain balanced. Find days when you don’t ever leave the house, stay in your pajamas all day, or have a movie marathon. Time when everyone is just reading for fun, or engaged in a board game with the whole family. This time is important for family units to connect in a fun, relaxed way.

It is equally important to have unstructured time at home and is a necessity for developing healthy kids. It fosters independence and responsibility. They need this time to be creative, to play, to go outside and explore. This is when they discover their passions. We have to give our kids the opportunity to just be children. We have to teach them balance by modeling balance. You can model hobbies by also spending time doing things you are passionate about. Now is the time to bake, woodwork, sew, or pursue something that will allow you to model for your child happiness and balance at home. Don’t be afraid to let your children be bored. They are smart, and they will realize the value of unstructured time.

School

Keeping a balance at school is just as important. School needs to be a place where kids develop a love for learning. It should be a joyous place where they can feel connected and part of a community. Yes, it is important to get through the curriculum so students are learning the academics and social emotional learning necessary for development. It is also extremely important for students to have unstructured time at school, time for choice, time for play, time for brain breaks, and time for passion projects. These things keep kids motivated and will create space for discovery, inspire creativity, and connection among peers.

We have to be aware that kids are at school 7 or 8 hours a day. Some even longer if they have working parents who drop them off early or need to send them to after school care. We need to be aware of how our students are feeling day to day and we need to create the balance they need to be successful and productive.

Students are doing school work all day long. It is important to keep homework to a minimum. If you do assign homework, make sure it is relevant and not just busy work. According to the National PTA “homework has the potential to negatively impact family and child interactions, and high quantities of homework not only add to stress, but do not necessarily lead to higher achievement outcomes.” They recommend only 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade and add 10 minutes of homework in each grade after.

Today more than ever, kids are growing up way too fast. We are raising kids who are stressed and depressed. It is our job as parents and teachers to help them create more balance and give them the space to be kids. We might only see our children or students for part of the day, but we need to make sure we are accounting for the entire day. Let’s all slow down, live in the moment, and stop rushing our kids through their childhood.