How to Support Your Child Without Doing Everything For Them

One of the timeless struggles parents face is deciding just how much support to give their children as they grow up.

When your children are very young, you have to do everything for them. And, hopefully, by the time they’re adults, they’ll be able to take care of themselves. In between, well, that’s where it gets tricky. You have to gradually pull back your support, doing less and less for them. But how much should you pull back? And how quickly?

Product vs. Production Capacity

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains the challenge parents face in terms of balancing “product” – the results we want – with “production capacity” – the ability of the child to produce those results on their own. And it’s not about choosing one or the other. As he says, “effectiveness lies in the balance … the P/PC Balance.”1

Most of the time, parents err on the side of doing too much for their children – focusing too much on the product. They’re not good at making their bed, so we do it for them. They’re not skilled at washing the dishes, so we don’t let them help. They’re not wise enough to make smart choices, so we decide everything for them. As Covey explains, it’s tempting to slip into authoritarian parenting:

When children are little, they are very dependent, very vulnerable. It becomes so easy to neglect the PC work – the training, the communicating, the relating, the listening. It’s easy to take advantage, to manipulate, to get what you want the way you want it – right now! You’re bigger, you’re smarter, and you’re right! So why not just tell them what to do? If necessary, yell at them, intimidate them, insist on your way.”1

But what about the other extreme? Would permissive parenting be better?

“Or you can indulge them. You can go for … popularity … giving them their way all the time. Then they grow up without any internal sense of standards or expectations, without a personal commitment to being disciplined or responsible.”1

Either way, you have a product mentality; you’re focused exclusively on getting good results now at the expense of future production capacity. You’re grabbing short-term benefits at the expense of long-term growth.

Authoritative Parenting

In between the extremes of authoritarian parenting and permissive parenting lies a better, more balanced approach: authoritative parenting.

This means holding your children to realistically high standards, rather than astronomically high standards or no standards at all. It means providing support and guidance without doing everything for them. And it means patiently cultivating production capacity, even if that means getting a poorer outcome today.


In the realm of executive function, this is often referred to as “scaffolding.” When a building is under construction, the builders put up scaffolding – a temporary structure that supports the construction process. Scaffolding never attempts to take the place of the building itself or perform the building’s functions for it; it just helps. And as the building becomes closer and closer to completion, the scaffolding is steadily removed.

The Discomfort of Letting Go

If you’re doing scaffolding right, you’ll probably feel uncomfortable. Most of the time, we have to stop doing things for our children before they’re ready to do them on their own. The training wheels come off before they really learn how to ride, not after. Letting go in this way is very uncomfortable because we can see that they’re not ready, and that they’re probably going to fail.

But if we’re wise, we can remember that they will learn from these failures, and they’ll get stronger through the act of struggling to do things on their own. And it is precisely this learning and this strength-building that sets them up to succeed later in life.

So listen to this discomfort. It doesn’t mean you’re making a mistake; it means that you’re going in the right direction. Like most forms of psychological resistance, it is a compass, not a warning.

1 Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal ChangeFireside, 1990.

Side Hustles For High School Students

A high schooler mowing a lawn - a great summer side hustle for a student

For a lot of high school students, summer break means getting a job, and there are many good reasons to do this: earning some financial independence, learning valuable skills, getting experience that will help you land better jobs in the future, and cultivating a strong work ethic.

But finding a summer job isn’t always easy or a good fit. Many students are out of town or at camps for large chunks of the summer, so employers are reluctant to hire them. And other students simply don’t want a job dictating their summer schedule.

Luckily, there’s another option: side hustling.

What is side hustling?

A side hustle is “anything you do to earn money outside of a traditional job.”1 Often, it’s a part-time job you create for yourself. These usually involve selling a service, but they can also involve selling actual products or the creation of digital assets that generate revenue, such as blogs, videos, and podcasts.

When you’re side hustling, you don’t have a boss, which is appealing to many people. You don’t have a set schedule, so you’ve got flexibility. And you’re not a wage worker, so you get to keep all of the profits, minus taxes.

Many adults pursue side hustles in order to earn extra income on top of their regular job. Some pursue side hustles as passion projects, getting paid to do things they love. Others aim to grow their side hustles so much that they’re able to quit their 9-5.

But side hustling isn’t just for adults; it’s also a great opportunity for students to make money and learn valuable skills.

Side Hustles for High School Students

When I was in high school, my best friend Tom and I advertised our services around the neighborhood by putting fliers up on all the mailboxes. We would do anything physically demanding: landscaping, pressure washing, dump runs, pulling seaweed around people’s docks – you name it. We charged $15 per hour, which was a lot more than we could have earned at a job in those days. And we loved it.

Here are some other great side hustles for high school students:

  • Babysitting – self-advertise or use a service like Sittercity
  • Lawn mowing and other yardwork
  • Dog walking/sitting – self-advertise or use Rover
  • Watering neighbor’s plants while they’re out of town
  • Buying cheap furniture at thrift stores, refinishing it, and selling it for a profit (Click here for a guide to flipping furniture)
  • If you’re over 18 and have a car, you can become an Instacart shopper.
  • Are you savvy with social media? Become a social media manager for a local business. (Hint: If the owners are old, they probably aren’t savvy.)
  • Are you an amazing baker? Perhaps a neighborhood restaurant will buy your pies.
  • Heck, we once had a student who started a fashion company in his spare time.

Not inspired by any of these ideas? Check out this list of over 100 different side hustle ideas. Some are, of course, not appropriate for high schoolers, but many are.

I recommend choosing something with a low barrier to entry. Advertise a service using skills and equipment you already have. Leverage your family, friends, and neighbors to spread the word for you. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money on tools or advertising. Just find something you can get paid to do, and start doing it.

What Side Hustling Teaches You

If you do start a side hustle, you’ll learn a great deal.

First and foremost, it’s an exercise in executive function. Starting and running a side hustle requires a great deal of organization and planning, so the part of your brain that does that will get a lot of exercise. You’ll have to manage the whole operation, from scheduling and communicating with clients to resolving disputes and receiving payments. As you take on more responsibilities, you’ll naturally become a more responsible person.

You’ll also learn practical skills that might help you in future jobs or entrepreneurial ventures. You’ll learn marketing and customer service on the fly through trial and error. You’ll want to keep track of expenses and revenue in a spreadsheet, so you’ll need to learn how to use Excel or Google Sheets.

And even if your side hustle fails to make money, you can use the failure as a learning opportunity. Don’t beat yourself up. Do better next time.

The Downsides of Side Hustling

As great as side hustling can be, it’s not for everyone, and it does come with some unique challenges.

First of all, you probably won’t make as much money as you would at a job, especially when you’re getting started. The long-term growth potential is higher, but it takes a while to build up a good reputation in your community and in your chosen industry. So if you need a reliable stream of income, you might be better off taking a job with set hours and a regular paycheck.

The mechanics of side hustling legally can be challenging as well. Depending on what you’re doing, you may need to get a business license with both the city and the state in which you live. And you’ll have to remember to save money for income and self-employment taxes (or make estimated tax payments).

And perhaps most importantly, you’ll have to be a self-starter. If you struggle with motivation, it’s probably better to just find a traditional job so you’ll be given a structured work schedule.

1 Loper. Nick. “What is a Side Hustle? And Why Millions Have One.” Side Hustle Nation.

What It Really Means When a Student Says “I Don’t Know”

Not knowing is an essential step in the learning process, but that does not always make saying the words “I don’t know” easy. Acknowledging a lack of knowledge is like stepping into the garden of our brain and pulling the tarp off of a brand new patch of dirt. We have to do this in order to ready the soil and begin to sow the seeds of knowledge which, with care and attention, will soon fill the once empty plot with roots and lush green foliage. But it can be embarrassing to see peers with already flourishing gardens where yours is bare. You might peek beneath the plastic at your little patch of earth, your stomach twisting in knots, and vow to never ever take the tarp off. This means, of course, that any knowledge you do accumulate will remain at the surface level. Unable to take root, it will eventually wither, nullifying the time and effort you may have spent.

I often work with students who are nervous about admitting that they don’t know something. Scratch that, I often work with people who are nervous about admitting that they don’t know something. In fact, I myself am often anxious about appearing ignorant. At one point or another, I think we all have been guilty of nodding along to a conversation we only half understand, hoping nobody will notice. But in doing this, we shut down part of our capacity to be open and active learners. This is a shame because really, “I don’t know” moments are anything but shameful; they are enriching opportunities to create solid foundations and invite curiosity. By cultivating a sense of normalcy and encouraging bravery around these moments, we can work together to begin to till that soil.

On the other end of the spectrum, for some students “I don’t know” has become as routine an answer as “fine.” Consider the following conversation:

Coach: “How are you doing?”

Student: “Fine.”

Coach: “Great. How is school going?”

Student: “Fine.”

Coach: “Cool. So, what are we working on today?”

Student: “I don’t know.”

Coach: “Shall we continue reading then?”

Student: “Fine.”

Coach: “What do you think might happen next?”

Student: “I don’t know.”

These students are pulling their tarps off, but then they stand there and shrug their shoulders. They don’t necessarily see it is their responsibility to begin the work of planting their garden. To be clear, this behavior is just as understandable and relatable as reflexively hiding a knowledge gap. Especially in the world of online school, it can be hard to stoke interest and energy levels to the point of being actively engaged at all times. For some students, simply turning up for class is what they can give at this moment, and that is appreciated. But others may not have realized that they have fallen into an “I don’t know” routine or what that might mean for their learning. In either case, seeing a reflexive “I don’t know” as a habit of avoidance that can be worked through can make all the difference.

But there is a twist. Those serial “I don’t know-ers”? The knee-jerk knowledge gap coverers? The culprits tend to be the same students, often within the same session. How is this possible, when I have so far discussed them as two opposite ends of a spectrum? It turns out that seeing “I don’t know” as a nerve-racking confession or using it as a matter of routine are both ways of taking a step back from active learning. They may be opposites, but they are opposite ends of the same spectrum: disengagement. Inviting a student to acknowledge an “I don’t know” moment is not about stewing in confusion. Likewise, encouraging a student to push past “I don’t know” is never about insisting on an immediate increase in their knowledge level. In both cases, the goal is to flip that brain switch from passive to active.

“I don’t know” is an important phrase, but it is not as important as what comes afterward. To create a successful learning experience, it must be followed up by a desire to fill that space. Ignorance can indeed be fertile soil, but only if we are willing to accept it for what it is and then put in the work to nourish it into what it can become.

About Leah Jarvik

Leah is a coach with NWES with a special focus on reading and writing support. She has also worked with students through organizations including the Seattle Children’s Theatre, Queen Anne Elementary School, Audubon, and abroad in Galway, Ireland, where she had the opportunity to study education and literacy. Outside of her education work, Leah is an actor, writer, and administrator, currently working with Macha Theatre Works to bring fearless female theatre to the stage. She graduated from Haverford College in 2019 with a double major in English and Theatre.