Thursday, December 11, 2008

Helping our kids vs. enabling them

Sabrina and Max at his touch-screen computer. She always wants to do stuff for him.

Max is in love with the remote-control car we got him for his birthday (it was the Parents one from my list of developmental toys). He especially loves throwing it down the stairs from over the guard-rail on the second floor, making me think the car is not long for this world.

Max is having trouble pressing the button to make it go. After we opened it (I was so excited he tore the wrapping paper by himself), he handed over the control to Sabrina because he knows she can easily do it and he can't. This always breaks my heart a little bit. Tonight, he only wanted me to push the button.

It's a tough line to walk: doing stuff for Max versus letting him do things for himself. Max has a lot of challenges using his hands. He never developed that pincer grasp (which enables you to pick up an object between your thumb and forefinger) and he can't point, which makes it hard for him to press things. With enough determination, he usually figures out a way. Sometimes I step in because I see him getting frustrated. Sabrina is always glad to lend a hand. "Max needs help!" she says. This outpouring of goodwill is partly driven by love, partly driven by her desire to get her mitts on his toys.

As for the remote control, Max and I had a stand-off when I refused to keep pressing the button for him. Now he's in bed, sleeping happily next to the car. Tomorrow, I'll again try to coax him into pressing the button. Nothing like a pushy parent, right?



  1. I can totally relate! There are so many things I want Piper to be able to do herself and yet every day there I things I automatically do for her that I should be encouraging her to do alone. It's that fine line - is it worth the fight and time, or do I just help and get it over with? I hate being the bad guy, but sometimes it's for the best....right?

  2. Oh Ellen...I so understand what you are saying. But we have now let Jonathan remain frustrated and find his own way. Tough love. You see, he will ask for help on MANY things, but he also tries to weasle his way out of so much. AND he gets away with it at school. UGH! It is generally things like putting his socks on. He can do it, just not very fast, especially on the left. We had days of tears, but I won't do something for him that I know that he can do for himself. Sometimes it is hard to step back, other times I literally walk away. He knows now there is no arguing or pleading. Same goes for buttons on his shirts or pants, or zippering his coat. Tying his shoes is going to be quite a challenge, so we won't even go there...velcro is wonderful. I want to help him, but I know I can't. I have pushed and pushed and pushed this kid. Sometimes I know he hates me for it, but I know when he gets older and realizes what happened to that poor little brain of his, and what his prognosis was that he was thank me.
    I say push him. Frustration has gotten Jonathan where he is. Max CAN push that button, even if it is with his fist, and even if it doesn't go exactly like he wants it. He CAN push it, and if he wants it to go, he will find a way.

  3. We deal with this so much too! Even when he learns to do one thing, another thing takes its place.

    One thing I started doing is setting a timer - then I just play with him his way for fun and push the buttons or do whatever he wants, then we set it again and I move into more of the therapist role, pushing him to do it himself, just to the point of frustration and then backing off.

    At least it makes me feel more in control, and I think it works for him too!

  4. It's a judgement call everytime. With each opportunity, you gotta decide, help to do or help to learn to do.

    Lots of wisdom in the first 3 comments.

    I'm wondering if your OT give you some tips on how to learn to push buttons?


  5. Sarah, I get the distinct feeling you think I am a complete pushover with the kids. I am only 20 percent pushover! I do hold my ground. :)

    Barbara, yes, I will definitely rope in our wonderful OT, Nafeesa, to help with this. She always has great suggestions. Welcome to the blog!

  6. Oh no I don't Ellen...I know that you just want what is best, and it is so incredibly difficult to sit back and watch your child struggle. I still immediately jump to Jonathans defense when anything is said toward or about him. Especially if someone says he can't do something.
    I have more to say, but I have kids to put to bed...later!

  7. That reminds me - would you consider teaching your child with a diagnosis to respond to the verbal jabs from other children - or even poorly-socialized adults? Or will you protect them and protest away from the offenders? I expect there's a judgment call there, too.
    aka therextras

  8. You know, I'm in a WAY different boat with Mr. Charles. He is SO stubborn and at this age prefers to do everything himself. This is resulting in some real battles at the dinner table as he grabs the spoon and refuses to give it back. I wonder if this will change as he gets older?

    Today I felt like a pushover. I thought the PT was being SO tough. I hate it when I get that feeling and it's rare since I am a bit of a hard-ass.

  9. Sarah, I was just teasing, I know you know I'm not such a wuss!

    Bird, that is so cool about Charlie, although I know it must make for some less-than-relaxing dinners! It's very typical of his age to want to do everything yourself.

    Barbara, I definitely want to instill in the Max the know-how and the wits for responding should and if other kids ever taunt him and make verbal jabs. But, honestly, he's not yet at that cognitive level. This past summer, some neighborhood kids got a little ticked off at Max because we had a block party and got a water slide. Max couldn't run down the water slide, so he was crawling up and down it and having a good old time. Kids were grumbling, one of them asked "Is he deaf?!" and when I finally pulled him off of it, some of the kids were just glaring at him. Max was totally unaware of the response he was getting, which was fine with me. I, of course, said something to them to the effect of, "Have some patience!" But when he does become aware someday, yes, I will make sure he knows how to respond. I want him to be able to stick up for himself. If he is anything like me, he will have plenty of fighter in him!

  10. It is a tough call because these kids despite all their determination will take every ounce they can get from us. Elizabeth is always telling me 'oh mom my legs hurt please carry me' and once I pick her up she is grinning ear to ear. We don't want to push them too hard but they need to gain as much independance as they can. I find leaving her on her own she will do more, I pretend I have something to do and leave and when I return she has taken off her boots or removed her coat.

  11. Maybe sleeping with the car will help him become even more determined?

    It is certainly a fine line and I find myself, most days, wondering if I'm doing more harm than good. When it comes to toys, we too come to a point where we decide we've had enough and if he'd like to continue, he needs to figure it out or play with something else.

    Who knows. the only thing I know for sure is that I want him to be happy...and independent. But alas, the latter may not fully happen, and I understand that.

  12. Happy to find your blog !! As I read this post almost most in tears ... my son Walter was born 8 weeks early and suffered a stroke at birth. He to has mild cp. He has very little use of his left hand/arm He just started to develop seizures, His brothers are always helping him do this or that.

  13. It is SUCH a tough call! I often wonder if I am further disabling Nathan by doing everything for him. Nathan can't do anything for himself but we have always cuddled and protected him so much that I'm starting to think that's part of the problem. WHich is why we're letting him "cry it out" a bit more lately and making him spend more time on his belly and doing ohter things to stimulate/push him. I think it comes down to whether you can emotionally deal with their discontent now or not. I am starting to realize that I have to do it now, instead of disabling him more because I don't want to hear him whine/cry.
    Thanks for the wonderful thought provoking posts!


Thanks for sharing!

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