What’s your first response when your children tell you about difficulties they are facing? Do you immediately jump in to help them solve their problems? If you do, then stop lending your children your brain so quickly!

I get it, I do. I am a helper by profession so I love to help people with their challenges. But if we don’t require our children to turn on their own problem-solving brain before we loan them ours, then our kids will not grow up to be resilient adults. Colleges are now reporting that today’s students are increasingly lacking in resilience and require too much intervention by older adults to solve relatively minor issues.

Parents contribute to this lack of resilience when we rush in to fix things for our kids. Having to work hard to figure out what to do next is a good thing because it requires us to turn on our brains, think creatively, evaluate choices and their long-term consequences, develop problem-solving skills and emotional control, build tolerance for ambiguity, and delay gratification.

Yes, there are emergencies when parents need to jump in—think broken bones, overflowing bathtubs, and such.

But many times, the best response we can give our kids when they come to us saying:

  • “I’m bored.”
  • “Someone said something mean to me at school.”
  • “The coach isn’t giving me enough playing time.”
  • “My teacher gave me a bad grade in social studies.”
  • “My little sister is bugging me.”
  • “I need money.”
  • “I dropped my phone and broke it.”

is not “How can I help?” but “Wow, what are YOU going to do about that?”

As parents, we need to curb our automatic impulse to fix things, to bail kids out financially, to call the teacher or coach or other child’s parent, to make it all better so we don’t have to see our child struggle and possibly get hurt. Or make a mistake—maybe several mistakes—and possibly embarrass us. We might look like or feel like bad parents.

Oh. Now we are getting to the unpleasant underbelly of much of the over-helping and hovering parents do. We tell ourselves we are helping so much because we love our kids. But is it really loving to impair the development of our child’s problem-solving brain?

Think back to when your children were learning to walk. They probably had bruises from hitting their head as they cruised around furniture. They often lost their balance and fell backwards on their bottom. They got hurt, they cried, but you didn’t rush in and declare “I can’t stand to see you struggle and get hurt so I will just carry you everywhere.” No, you highly valued the skill of walking independently so you were willing to let your child suffer as they practiced, made mistakes, and learned to walk. You understood that you have to let toddlers bear their own weight if they are going to learn to walk by themselves.

The same is true for the skill of problem-solving. We have to let children bear the weight of their problems and responsibilities in age-appropriate ways so they will learn to problem solve, to bounce back from setbacks, and to feel competent to launch into adulthood.

Also, by asking your children “what are YOU going to do about that?” you send the accurate message that they are ultimately responsible for their own lives. If you’re bored, it’s your responsibility to entertain yourself. If you’re out of money, it’s your responsibility to earn more. If your friend is habitually rude to you, it’s your responsibility to work through the necessary confrontation.

You also send the encouraging message that you believe in your child’s ability to turn on his or her brain and generate possible solutions. Sometimes kids need our assistance in sorting through solutions, and yes, sometimes they need our help in coming up with alternatives, but don’t lend kids your well-developed problem-solving brain until you’ve seen them stretch their brain as far as it can go given their age.