Have you ever noticed that when things aren’t going right, particularly with your kids, your knee-jerk reaction is to do more of something—not less? If they are not listening to you, you most likely raise your voice, rather than lower it. If they are struggling with something difficult, you jump in with loads of ideas, rather than keeping quiet or offering only one or two ideas.

In truth, however, a softer voice would probably be more effective in getting their attention, while offering fewer of your own ideas would motivate them to devise their own solutions.

In our culture, there is a strong assumption that when our children are struggling it means they need more: more attention, more time, more focus, more love. Johnny seems a bit day-dreamy lately, so perhaps he needs more attention from his parents. Jessie isn’t doing well enough in school this semester, maybe she needs more focus from teachers and parents. Or Emma seems to have low self-esteem, so maybe she needs more love, acknowledgement, and approval.

Stop Over-Giving, Over-Praising, and Over-Sharing

Maybe for some kids and for some parents, this is true some of the time—but most of the time it is not. Often, giving more of those things is a sure way to impair our children. Even though we react this way out of love, we can be causing the very opposite result of what we intend.

From Day 1, we’ve been conditioned to over-function for our kids. By overdoing, over-giving, and over-praising, we are contributing to their ultimate dependence on these things.

As a result, now Jessie believes she can’t manage her schoolwork without lots of help from her parents. Emma can’t feel good about herself unless she gets others’ approval and acknowledgement, while Johnny doesn’t know how to regulate himself without getting others’ time, focus and attention. We have unwittingly encouraged dependence rather than self-reliance. Kids get addicted. And sometimes we parents get our own validation by feeling useful and necessary through over-doing for our children. But in the end, they learn helplessness rather than resilience.

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Tolerating Our Kids’ Pain

We hear all the time that in order to be a good parent, partner, or friend it is important to fulfill others’ needs and be empathetic to their feelings. Yes, that is important, but only up to a point.

For example, 13-year-old Nicole was very anxious about going on sleepovers at friends’ houses. Her parents empathized with her pain and struggle so much that they ran to pick her up as soon as she texted them with any indication of her discomfort. They would bring her home and hug her and listen to her express her sadness about “failing” again. They would do whatever they could to make her feel better and assure her that she had not failed, she was just not ready.

Is it possible that what Nicole really needed was to become more responsible for herself? Her parents could have encouraged her to challenge her fear, manage her anxiety, and regulate her own emotions.

If Nicole’s parents acknowledged her struggle and pain without rescuing her from it, Nicole could finally have grown up and become a more self-reliant and responsible person. This, of course, requires the parents to tolerate her pain. Although it can be very hard to do, it is only when parents can raise their tolerance level for their child’s pain that their child can be motivated to do the same.

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When More IS the Answer

So is more ever better than less? Of course—here are four examples.

  1. Do more for yourself and less for your child. In this case, doing less empathizing, less “meeting her needs,” and less focusing on her is actually a more caring and responsible position for a parent to take.
  2. Think less about fulfilling your kids’ needs and more about helping them be responsible for their own. For instance, “I am not running back to school so that you can get the homework books you forgot—you will have to find a way to find out what is due tomorrow or make it up.”
  3. Think less about your children’s feelings and more about helping them function at their best. “You may not feel like saying you are sorry to your cousin, but I am holding you accountable to do the right thing.”
  4. Think less about buying into their whining and complaining and more about helping them manage and regulate themselves. “I know that you hate doing your chores but when I ask you to do them I expect them to get done. You can be unhappy about it, but please find a way not to drag others down when you are unhappy.”

Be there for your kids in the ways they actually need you, but move out of their way otherwise. And learn to know the difference.

Letting Go

When you are told by teachers, in-laws and friends that your kids seem to need more from you—attention, time, focus, acknowledgement, approval—stop and think hard about it. Do they really? Are you actually neglecting them? If so, then of course you should do more of what they need from you.

However, in the more likely scenario, they are getting more than enough from you. So it’s best for them if you cut back and let them struggle to find their own legs. Letting go will leave you feeling wobbly at first, but with practice and time, you will find your own strong legs to stand on.

Related Content:
Your Child Is Not Your “Friend”
Free-Range Parenting: Balancing Protection with the Dignity of Risk


For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Comments (8)
  • AnusmitaDutta
    The article gives  a new perspective. It says we have to create a balance between not giving and giving too much. I see someone disagreeing to the write-up, but the article in no way tells us to give less to our kids. Time has changed and we have to changeMore some of our parenting styles to maintain a balance between looking after the kids and looking after onself. I am all for raising independent kids and at the same time being available to them. The article gives us just a new perspective that we have to think the other way too sometimes- are we doing too much? Each child is different and one never knows what will work and what will fail. Let is welcome all viewpoints , and do what works for us.
  • kiwikrs

    As a mom whose children are now in the mid to late twenties, I have to say that I disagree with this article to a certain extent. I was the parent you say not to be and all three of my children are now college graduates living very happy fufilling and INDEPENDENT lives. My oldest, my son, is married with his own child and has a successful career. He graduated college magna cum laude, got a job and has even changed the direction of his career to be more satisfying all on his own. I did not do his college work for him nor pick out his wife or arrange for him to get his job or talk him into a more satisfying direction in his career. He can think and act on his own just fine. My middle daughter also graduated college, worked in her field for 8 years and just recently moved to Spain to teach for a year while she explores Europe, all on her own. She is very independent. My youngest just graduated college magna cum laude, moved to another state when she got a job offer. She also is very independent and loves the new life she is about to embark on.

    I did not hinder my children in any way that I can see. All my children love me dearly and come to visit often. They can think on their own very well, they work, pay their bills and live their lives the way that they want to. 

    I see that there is this new trend where mom's are more selfish and just basically let the kids raise themselves, but we haven't seen the results of this new trend yet. God (and our government) gives us the control and care of our children for 18 years. The reason is that they need to be "raised". They need their parent's guidance, intuition, sympathy, love and concern. I have to say, I am concerned about this new trend. I think it will create an unsympathetic, unintuitive, self-absorbed generation that is detached from their parents because they were trained to be that way.

    • Lezlie
      kiwikrs Every kid is different. Each and every one. Your argument is similar to, "Well, I spanked my kids and they turned out just fine," or, "I smoked while pregnant with all of my kids and they turned out just fine." Your experience is yours and yours alone. If thisMore article doesn't describe you, great. But, that doesn't discount it's relevance. It doesn't take away from the possibility that these parental habits can, in fact, hinder some kids. Just like, some kids who get spanked turn out to be aggressive adults or some babies are born with defects because their mom smoked cigarettes while pregnant. In MY experience, over-parenting has shown negative effects on each of my kids in different ways. I know when to step in with which child and when. I've learned when to let a certain child tough it out and which child I need to comfort more. I'm not sure what "trend" you speak of, but let's be honest, kids today are either over-parented are not parented at all. In my opinion, this article discusses how to find balance.
  • Mom divided
    Dealing with this as parents divided. I know the importance of not over-doing for my two girls and have always encouraged and enforced consequences for inaction. Then my husband would come in behind me to undo what I just accomplished by returning items or privileges and saying I wasMore being too harsh. This began when my oldest was two and still goes on now that she is 14! I have tried many times over and over to point out what he is doing to them and himself, yet he just doesn't get it. His parents did everything for him too. So I can see why it's hard for him, but the problem is only going to get worse. Fortunately I do what I can with the influence I have being at home all the time. Still very frustrating though!
  • MargaretRood
    I really needed to read this today.  I have been letting my 5yo's get away with far too much laziness, because I'm always rushing to get them out the door in the morning.  They're going to kindergarten in the fall, and they have just got to start putting on theirMore own clothes (I know they can do this), wiping their own butts (ditto), and brushing their own teeth (ditto).  But they are fighting this as though I was asking them to build the pyramids.
  • momincontrol
    I watch my kids and observe what they like or like to do. I tell them beforehand that if their rooms aren't clean and their laundry isn't done within a reasonable amount of time agreed upon by both of us, their privileges are suspended, their phone gets turned in, theMore game cube becomes dismantled, or whatever event or experience or gadget they enjoy gets taken away until the agreed upon chore is completed.  Do they get angry?  Yes, but it works for me every time.  I don't engage in the drama.  I take their stuff until the chore is completed.
  • JaneneM
    Hello Very Sad Mom,  I too tired your approach and let my teen's cloths sit unwashed in his room till he had nothing to wear.  He knows how to use the washer and could very well do his own laundry, however he just flat out refused to help. InMore comes my loving mother to visit, she bundled it all up and washed it for him.  It sat folded but never got put away!  Good luck, chore division is an important one and can exhaust a parent.  Since it's just us two, I feel like I need to make these lessons even more clear.  If you don't do it and I don't do it there is no one else except the cat and she's not doing it!  Good luck.
  • Very sad mom
    It was very difficult when I realized that I actually was empowering my teenagers--and even my husband--to be lazy and snappy/nasty when I spoke to them about doing some of the housework by picking up, doing chores, etc. My response always was to just do it myself when the argumentMore was done. I work nights and so I would clean what they left there and talk to them when they got home about helping--which always turned into an argument. My fault for sure. I am trying to just leave things which is difficult so I now have paper plates.
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