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.
Chris Loper has been working as a tutor and academic coach since 2014, racking up over 10,000 hours of experience supporting students.
Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
Chris’s most recent endeavor combines his academic and habit-formation expertise to help students thrive in college. Visit SmartCollegeHabits.com to learn more.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.