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Learned Helplessness: Are You Doing Too Much for Your Child?

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Learned Helplessness: Are You Doing Too Much for Your Child?
If your child seems to be under functioning you might be contributing by over functioning for him.

Your teen leaves his dirty clothes all over the house. Instead of getting into another fight with him or nagging him to pick them up, you do it for him. It’s easier, right?

Your daughter with ADD is having problems completing her science project. She can’t seem to focus and complains that it’s boring and too difficult. After she goes to sleep, you finish it for her. After all, you don’t want her to fail.

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"If a parent's emotional needs are met through their child, essentially they’re tying her shoes for her every step of the way."

We all “over–function” in our relationships at times, particularly with our kids. And we often start without even realizing it. Let’s say your toddler knows how to tie her shoes, but you tie them for her anyway, because it’s faster—and it becomes a habit. Or you run back to school when your 13–year–old son, who never remembers anything, forgets his homework again. Or your young adult daughter despairs because she was laid off from her first job and you jump in with advice and try to “fix” the situation without listening to what she has to say first. When you get stuck in a role of doing too much, you might find it hard to give up—and often, those around you might not want you to stop!

It’s easy to get stuck in this role because you feel needed, people rely on you and are impressed with how much you do. But understand that over–functioning isn’t just a simple desire to be helpful or an annoying habit to overcome. Look at it this way: if you’re always focused on everybody else, it’s a way to not focus on yourself. Over–functioning is the way we’ve learned to manage our own anxiety by overdoing, just like your under–functioning child has learned to manage stress by underdoing. This turns into a problem when it becomes a fixed pattern in your family.

More from YourTango: Anxious Parenting: Are You Guilty Of It?

So for example, let’s say your 23–year–old son sleeps all day, parties all night and won’t look for work, but you let him live under your roof without paying rent or asking him to leave. You find yourself waiting on him hand and foot. Maybe you're going along with this because you're avoiding the discomfort of a confrontation. But the question to ask yourself is, "Is this in my child's best interests or in mine?" Are you helping your child, or are you teaching your child to be helpless?

Is My Child an “Under–functioner”?

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