When you become a parent or caregiver it’s like a switch flips in your brain and reprioritizes everything. Instead of thinking of your own best interests, you automatically take on extra stress or pain so your girl doesn’t have to feel any at all. But before you get ready to go toe-to-toe with a playground menace, you might want to rein it in a bit.
Although there are some situations with serious safety issues that require you to step in immediately, if she’s facing a minor conflict, let her try to handle it on her own. Why? For starters, she’s not going to learn much about handling her own problems if you’re always stepping in to help. Dealing with conflict is an important skill to master, and it will be easier for her if she starts with more minor run-ins, like a disagreement with her best friend, before working up to the harder stuff she’ll encounter as a teen or adult.
“When caring adults go into ‘helicopter’ or ‘snowplow’ mode in an effort to move conflict or hardship out of the way, they’re really doing a disservice to their children,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “If every little challenge or disappointment gets smoothed over or solved without the child’s involvement, or even awareness, they’re never going to learn how to do it on their own. While your girl might need guidance to handle conflict—and it might take more time to get things resolved than if you jumped in—the confidence and skills she’ll gain in being able to weather her own storms will be worth it.”
Additionally, seeing you run to her rescue any time something goes awry might make her question her own ability to handle difficulties and make her think you don’t have much confidence in her—which couldn’t be further from the truth.
So the next time you’re tempted to smooth the path for your girl or help her out of a sticky situation, take a step back and let her try it solo first. It’s easier said than done, of course (you might feel more nervous than she will!), but following these steps, you can support her without taking over.
Start small. Let’s say she loses a favorite book or toy. Instead of drying her tears and ordering a new one, have a conversation about the importance of being responsible for her things. Suggest that she set aside money from her allowance to buy herself a new one. The time it takes for her to save up to replace an item she lost will be a chance for her to learn accountability and that she needs to look after her things.
Listen and make suggestions. If your girl tells you about a problem, it’s an opportunity to teach her how to resolve it on her own. So if she’s having an issue with a teacher, instead of immediately calling or emailing them, talk her through the issue. Having her figure out what she wants to say ahead of time can help, and you can even role-play as practice. Switch up the roles so she can also consider the other person’s perspective too.
Then let her do her thing! If she’s done her best at trying to resolve things on her own and the problem or miscommunication persists, then it might be time to step in. But if she can communicate well and fix things on her own, not only will adults view her with more respect, but her peers will too.
Share your war stories. The challenges your girl's faces are unique to her life and her experiences, but that doesn’t mean she can’t benefit from learning how you’ve dealt with a few sticky situations yourself (and come out on the other side!). Tell her about a rough time in your life, how you handled it, and what you learned. She might not entirely relate to the mishaps of your youth, but the story will help her see that everyone struggles sometimes—and that although you want her to solve her own problems, you’re still there for her with emotional support.
The truth is, life is hard sometimes. The sooner she learns that and starts practicing these problem-solving techniques, the more confident and capable she’ll be as she grows up.
Show her she can do anything she sets her mind to with these easy tips.
Why you might want to do a bit less talking and a lot more listening.