Help your Kids Solve Their Own Problems

Is too much help, harmful? Learn when to help and when to let go. We have
expert advice for moms and dads.

As parents, the big question over time becomes how much do we help our
young and adult children without enabling them. From a science fair project
to doling money to newlyweds, parents have tough daily choices about how
much “help” is helpful in a child’s life. Here are a few tried and true tips.

#1. Let them own the problem. Parents are often too quick to
suggest a solution, or even do it for the child. Help children see the problem
is theirs and instill confidence they can find a solution. Jump in too quickly
and they will get used to you bailing them out. For young children, that
means give them time and ideas to solve it. When our son was seven he
wanted a new Lego set for about forty dollars. I immediately asked what he
could do to earn that money (his need, his solution) which included cleaning,
yard work, making cookies, etc. This particular time he chose to make
cookies, charging a dollar per cookie. As an all-wise parent, I commented
that I thought the price too high but to do what he thought best. He ignored
my advice, the parents paid up, and he made great money. Note to mama
self: keep mouth shut.

#2. Set appropriate boundaries. This can be especially tough with
adult children. In 2006, over half of all young adults from 20 to 24 years old
lived with their parents. In this economy, it’s often due to inability to find a
job, afford housing, or pay off student loans. But just as often, these
“boomerang kids” are not feeling an internal pressure to find better
solutions, especially when an easy one is before them.

Decide ahead of time how you will handle predictable situations, especially
financial ones with adult children: will you help with a down payment or co-
sign on a loan for a car? How often will you help financially? Is there a dollar
amount limit? Some parents offer a one-time gift of $1,000—the young
adults choose when to use it, but that’s it. Or with moving back home: how
often, how long, and do they pay rent? If they don’t have cash, they can do
labor, fixing up the house, etc. And it’s appropriate to sign a contract
between everyone about the details—i.e. they will stay for nine months while
the house is being built, each month after that they pay rent (ensuring the
building process moves along). Remember, this is not your issue. You are
doing them the service so make sure the situation is peaceful to you and not
something you’ll resent.

#3. Be the broken record. No matter the age, children will generally
fight you on boundaries so be prepared. Use Parenting with Love and Logic:
“That’s a difficult situation, what are your options?” If adult children push for
you to solve it, say, “We’d love to help but we just can’t right now. You’re
both smart and savvy people, we know you’ll figure this one out.” If they say,
but you have money/went on a trip/don’t have debt, say, “Yes, and we
budgeted carefully for that opportunity. When you’re our age, those are some
of the things you’ll get to do too.” Don’t buy into inappropriate guilt or
emotional blackmail. If you weren’t alive, they’d find a way to survive. Of
course, there are times to help. But you’ll know it’s wise when they are
grateful for any assistance and you feel a sense of peace and sureness.

Wisely allowing young and adult children to solve their own problems creates
healthy, confident and capable adults. So don’t feel guilty, be glad you can
part of that growing process!

Connie Sokol is the mother of six—expecting her seventh—and a speaker,
former TV and radio host, and author of several books including her newest
releases, Motherhood Matters, and Faithful, Fit & Fabulous. For tips,
podcasts, and products visit

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