As discussed in our post on executive function, a parent’s job is to provide “scaffolding” – guidance, structure, and support – and gradually reduce that scaffolding as time goes on. The older children get, the more they can do on their own. But parents are often fearful of reducing the amount of help they provide. It’s as though they think their child is a Jenga tower that will get more unstable with each block that is removed.
But a child is not a Jenga tower. In fact, the opposite is true: Removing supports makes them stronger! The brain is like a bunch of muscles, and muscles don’t grow unless they’re made to work. When parents keep the scaffolding up too long – by making all the decisions, hovering, reminding, micromanaging, and otherwise overparenting – children don’t get to practice their executive function skills; they don’t get to grow their executive function muscles.
Parents fear that taking away scaffolding will create instability or result in complete collapse. It won’t. Your children will develop the skills and strengths they need to manage their lives just as soon as they’re required to do it for themselves. There will be mistakes and failures, yes, but there will also be the essential learning that comes from mistakes and failures. There will be times when you’ll be tempted to save your child from the pain of mistakes and failures, but please don’t rescue them because sometimes learning has to be painful.
This doesn’t mean you’re completely letting go and removing all support. Scaffolding is removed gradually, and you’ll remain available to provide additional support if the child asks for it. And all the while, you can be leading by example, actively modeling and verbalizing your own executive function process. This isn’t about switching from helicopter parenting to laissez-faire parenting; it’s about finding the middle ground between the extremes of parenting styles.
And don’t forget that Greg is available as a resource. Deciding when and how to remove various pieces of scaffolding is difficult, so don’t hesitate to reach out to schedule parent coaching sessions. The problem is not you, so there’s no shame in asking for help.
About the Author
Chris Loper has been an academic coach for Northwest Educational Services since 2014. He also writes the popular self-improvement blog Becoming Better, so if you liked this article, head on over to becomingbetter.org and check out his other work. Chris also offers behavioral change coaching, helping busy adults with habit formation and productivity. He lives in Seattle, WA.