Ask Mama Dina: Are We Teaching Our Kids To Be Helpless?

I can’t count the number of times my children have asked for my help with something, and instead of showing them how to do it for themselves, I’ve just quickly done it for them. Putting toothpaste on their toothbrushes, tying their shoes, and even wiping their bums – it all just seems easier to do it quickly and properly, and I confess, I’m a bit of a control freak. I like things done in a certain way. So when they ask to help with folding laundry or making dinner, I frequently reply with a “sorry honey, not this time”, sprinkled with some excuse as to why mommy needs to do it by herself.

Awhile ago I came across an article that asked the question: Are We Doing Too Much For Our Kids?, and it made me think about my actions and the effects that they have on my children. Today’s society is so focused on convenience – making things easier, more accessible, and faster for us. We’ve become a bit lazy, and I can’t help but wonder: Is our tendency to help ourselves hindering our children’s ability to reach their developmental milestones?

Parenting Tips

When I hear stories about my parents and the responsibilities that they had when they were growing up, I feel a little embarrassed about how much I do for my children. My mom and her four sisters were expected to work from a very young age. When she was only 7 (the same age as my daughter) she would come home from school, change into her “work clothes”, and begin her chores (housecleaning and cooking). When she was 10, she was expected to get a job. She would go around knocking on neighbours doors to see if they needed a babysitter, or help with their lawn mowing, and would work hard so that she could earn money to buy her own clothes. My children on the other hand, have almost everything done for them by yours truly.

In thinking about this, I asked my mom: “Do you think we do too much for our kids nowadays? Are we teaching them to be helpless for our own convenience?” Here’s what she had to say:

She started by agreeing that parents nowadays do tend to do too much for their children (including me). But she quickly followed up with the fact that we are all busy, and when trying to juggle the kids, work, ringing phones, errands, etc. it makes sense to do what’s easiest for us. She said we shouldn’t punish ourselves for it, we’re human and we do what we need to do get through the day. She reminded me that each day is a brand new day, and that it’s never too late to change our ways.

Here are some key tips that she gave me on helping my children to mature and do things on their own:

Ask yourself if you think they are capable of doing it themselves. As often as possible, it’s beneficial for your children to try to do things for themselves. It teaches them independence, and boosts their self esteem when they learn new skills. If they can’t tie their own shoes, respond with “let me show you how” instead of just doing it for them.  If they ask you a question, show them how to look up the answer instead of quickly responding.

I asked her what to do if you’re not sure if they’re capable of the task or not, and her response? “You won’t know for sure until you let them try!”

Praise, don’t punish. Praise them for trying, even if they don’t succeed at doing the task right away. If they can’t tie their shoes after the first few tries, don’t get mad or frustrated (I know, easier said than done), but instead encourage them with praise – “you’re doing a really good job at trying to tie your shoes. Keep practicing and I’m sure you’ll get it!”

**Side Note: Be sure to be specific with your praise. My mom says that always saying “good job” doesn’t teach them as well as being very specific about what they’ve done well. Saying something like, “You cleaned your room without my asking, that shows me that you’re learning to be responsible and that makes me very proud of you!”, helps them to understand what they’ve done right, and helps in the development of their independence and maturity.

Teach them what they need, not what they want. As you teach your children important life skills, be sure to distinguish the difference between the things that they need (healthy eating habits, choosing the right clothes for the season), versus the things that they want (iPhone 6, video game consoles). This will help to develop their decision-making skills.

I then asked her if there were certain milestones that children should reach by certain ages – for example, should my 7-year-old know how to tie her own shoes by now?

She responded that all children mature differently so there really aren’t any predetermined ages for reaching different milestones of independence.

So there you have it! I’m going to try my best to help my children to learn how to do things for themselves. A daunting task to say the least, but worth a try.


Mama Dina is a consummate mother, adoptive mother, stepmother, foster mother and grandmother. For over 30 years, she worked as an early childhood educator, and is fully trained and experienced in the Montessori educational approach. She has over 15 years of experience as a foster parent to children from all walks of life, many of whom have special needs. She provides emergency respite care for the foster care system, and acts as a ‘baby whisperer’ for preemie twins on a part-time basis. Her educational background includes training in child psychology, ECE, infant-toddler development, and various areas of special needs (ARBD, FASD, ADHD). Mama Dina’s lifelong passion has been children. She understands typical and atypical child development and behaviour, and combines her magic formula of unconditional love and consistency to enhance each child’s potential. She is also my beloved mama, and I am so blessed that she chose me to be her daughter.


  1. Thank you for the mention. I really enjoyed your perspective on this!

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