Learning to be helpless.

I finish this week reflecting on the polarity of approaches to parenting I come across as a primary school teacher.

At one end of the scale, there’s the  minimalist approach, which usually leaves us with a child who is like an electrical appliance you’re trying work when it’s not even plugged in. These children have passivity built in, hard wired even, because no parent has ever taken the time to ignite anything within them. They are rarely read to, listened to or talked to by way of a meaningful  two way conversation. These poor little souls have, over time, lost all their inquisitiveness about the world as those adults in their lives have not only stifled it, but have laid it to rest with their own nonchalant attitude to learning and self improvement. Progress for these children is slow because learning, in any form, is not part of their life outside school.

At the other end of the scale however, is another style of parenting which is to blame for similarly inactive, mentally lethargic children.Through persistent and unabated fussing, these children have learnt to be helpless and act helpless.

These are the children with the parents waiting anxiously at the gate until the very last ring of the bell, holding the coat and pack lunch when all the other parents have gone, leaving their children to sort it all out for themselves. These children need mum to do, or remind them to do, almost everything their peers do for themselves. They have been coached into this way of being as rigorously as their neglected peers at the other end of the scale have too. In truth, this is another form of neglect which is harder to confront or recognise as it is disguised by veil upon veil of mothery love and concern. These parents are actively teaching their child to be helpless. More often than not, it is these children who sit passively in class during lessons doing little or nothing, unless an adult either continuously breathes down their neck or holds their proverbial hand through everything. Progress is harder with these children as they are so dependant on adult intervention each step of the way.

What fills me with warmth (and gratitude) are the vast majority of parents who parent with a vigorous degree of interest while allowing their little ones vital forms of independence and responsibility so they learn to be self reliant and resilient. These children progress fast because they don’t need a hand to hold for everything. They’ve learnt to do the things they should by themselves and they transfer this attitude to their learning. In the best possible sense, they have learnt to help themselves!

One thought on “Learning to be helpless.

  1. Bonnie

    I 100% agree with you on this observation of over protective mothering. It is the same emotions where the mother wants to protect the child from the feelings of failure, and unfortunately, we all need to experience failure to evolve as part of the maturing process.

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