Hands Off Parenting

When my son, now 5 1/2, was one year old, he wasn’t pointing or waving. The pediatrician was a little concerned. Developmentally speaking, most children are doing both by a year, and the absence of those skills can be an early sign of autism.

I wasn’t worried though. My child had met or exceeded all his other milestones, was walking well and had no problems communicating. After our appointment, I went home and stewed for a bit because I felt she was being overly cautious and a little alarmist. And when she called a few days later with the results of his lead test, I brought up her concerns.

He wasn’t waving because it wasn’t something he saw very often, since I was a stay home mom and my husband left for work before he woke for the day. Once we made an effort to wave to him and each other, he picked it up easily. And he wasn’t pointing because he didn’t really need to. Anything he needed or wanted was either within reach, or I anticipated his needs, feeding him before he got hungry enough to ask, getting toys before he reached for them.

I was right, his development was fine, but there’s another point illustrated here, and that is that a parent can sometimes be too conscientious.

It’s normal to not want our kids to hurt themselves, or fail at something, or get frustrated. It’s very easy to step in to help them, or to not let them try things at all. We all want to be hands on parents. But is it good for them?

That non-pointing and non-waving one year old is now going on six and is getting ready to enter kindergarten in the fall, where he will be expected to write, to tie his own shoes, carry his own books, put on and zip his own coat, wash and dry his own hands without a reminder to push up his sleeves, and a number of other activities. He’ll have to remember his own homework and work out disagreements with classmates on his own.

That’s why most of the time these days, I’m more of a hands off parent.

He gets his own snacks when he’s hungry, pours his own drinks, and can fix simple meals like sandwiches, waffles and oatmeal.

He makes his own bed, dresses himself, showers by himself and puts his dirty clothes into the laundry room.

When he asks for help, I usually tell him to try it himself first. And when he isn’t getting along with his sister, I tell them to work it out on their own. I only intervene when it gets ugly.

My younger child is 3 1/2 and we’re doing pretty much the same thing with her, on an age appropriate level. (She’s way too small to get a gallon of milk out of the fridge. You don’t really want to know how I know this.)

Being there for our kids and being involved with them doesn’t always mean we need to be right there at all times. We need to let them figure it out on their own sometimes.

Think about it–Is there any area in your life as a parent where you think you and your child could benefit from being hands off?

6 thoughts on “Hands Off Parenting”

  1. Very interesting… the info about the non-pointing child raising flags caught my attention on this one. My daughter was diagnosed Autistic (correctly) at 2 but not without a LOT of other signs. I knew something wasn’t right many months before she was 2 and I credit AP with that. Her engagement with me was fading and she started to lose some words and some signs (we did signing from very early on just because). Being so in tune with her and her moods and behavior… I knew that something was amiss early and it helps so much to get help early!

    I think it was great that your doctor even spotted the lack of pointing and waving and took note. That’s very rare. Most doctors just shoo away concerned “hysterical” parents (the opposite situation in your case) and it takes a while to be heard that our child needs help.

    My daughter was raised using attachment parenting and instead of being the hands off parent I was hoping to be (“be free my child!!!”) I’ve had to be very hands on and teaching and teaching and doing therapies with her that the therapists would come and show me how to do… It’s amazing how life happens without your say isn’t it? Then it was off to the special preschool 5 times a week at age 3 for special ed, socialization practice and therapies… She wasn’t my baby for very long!

    My daughter, at 5, is now considered very high functional that no one thinks anything is ‘up with her except when she’s tired and starts acting like a hyperactive “brat” to use the non-PC word. But, of course, she is not a brat it’s part of the whole disability.

    I’m really enjoying this blog of yours!

  2. Yes! It is so very difficult to know when/how/if to make the transition from the kind of attachment parenting we provide for our newborn babies (constant security with a goal of zero frustration!) to the helpful observation we give our toddlers so that they can explore safely— to the hands-off, come-ask-if-you-need-me stage of our school-aged children so that they can become self learners. There are no black and white lines, just a lot of gray area in this subject! I think that we keep a foot in every one of these areas as our children grow…and each child is different. Knowing your child’s temperament, abilities, developmental stage etc are crucial in order to make the best choices about when to be there and when to let them go. Obviously, the whole point of AP Is to build that secure base so that they CAN internalize the things that they need to take our into the world with them without holding our hands until they go off to college 🙂

    I have a hard time letting my children deal with conflict on their own. I often see how simple the solution is and want to “model” how easy it would be to resolve the conflict. But of course what winds up happening is that they want to depend on me to fix it instead. When I leave them alone, it does escalate a little further than I would like sometimes, but just then one of the kids will step in an pull a “mini-mom” and say something that sounds just like me!

    Great post!

  3. I really enjoyed this post. I think kids in their toddler years actually like the sense of accomplishment when they finish a task and receive a generous compliment from a grown up. They are gradually building a sense of self esteem and every small thing they accomplish only adds to it. As a Dad, I try to build on it every single moment I am with my twins. They need constant affirmation and a sense of confidence – not just in words, but in actions and body language – from their parents that they can do pretty much anything! Of course, safety is a big concern and we have to be vigilant about it. However, there is no reason to let our sense of risk dampen the spirits of a growing child.

    I believe that “hands off” doesn’t mean you have to leave them alone in a physical sense. Hands off means being patient and watch them and support them as they figure it out. If they need help, they will ask; but resist the temptation to solve the problem for them.

    To a grown up, waving or pointing seems like a trivial thing. But for a one year old, it is a new discovery. It is yet another way they can interact with their world.

  4. I like this post. I have always let my children do as much as they could, or I would help them learn how they could do something — like pour milk. I like to see them take initiative and be able to do things for themselves, and as Twin ToddlersDad mentioned, toddlers get a real sense of accomplishment from doing so — and it makes it much easier when that toddler becomes a preschooler and demands to do everything themselves…there’s no power struggles, because I already know they can do it.

    I do make it a point, tho, to teach my children that if they’re getting frustrated with something and they just can’t seem to figure out a better way, to ask for help. I do think this is very important.

  5. I really enjoyed this!

    My son is 2 1/2 and I’m more “hands-off” than a lot of parents I know, really it was his personality that led me that way. He loves to copy and do things on his own, after watching mummy for a while he can work out how to do something. He doesn’t like to have anyone help unless he specifically asks for help.

    When he was younger I was not so hands off. He didn’t learn to walk until he was over 18 months old, everyone was worried, but in his mind he didn’t need to walk, mummy carried him everywhere. In hindsight I should have been a little more hands off with that.

    I’ve realised his slow potty training has something to do with this too. We’re working on it, but I know now that he doesn’t want to be sat on the potty when we “think” he needs to go and have praise for doing it. He wants to sit on the big toilet on his own like mummy and daddy do.

    And honestly, I adore watching him work these things out for himself. Drs have been worried about his development since he was born 6 weeks early, he’s been evaluated for autism and suchlike but I know him and I can see that he wants to be able to work these things out for himself.

  6. my grandparents were a very very hands on parents (i was raised by my grandmother) and honestly i believe it did a disservice to me. i still (at 29 years old) can’t walk down stairs without holding on the railing for the fear of falling they have instilled in me. my 1 year old son can climb up the stairs and to the surprise of many, safely climb DOWN them too. he is cautious but we let him also make mistakes safely and he has tremendously improved his motor skills. he has not been walking yet, but its because as of now crawling is after… so i joke all the time he will be going from crawling very fast to running (he will probably skip ‘walking’ all together… or maybe he is waiting for dada to come home from training 🙂

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