How to Drive Yourself Crazy in One Easy Lesson

Let’s say that on Monday, Jimmy is frustrated. He is totally losing it. No, actually, he has totally lost it. For whatever reason, he just cannot do something – maybe it’s a homework problem, maybe it’s tying his shoes, maybe it’s just finding a way to calm himself down. And he is rapidly heading toward the edge, with you very close behind.

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On Tuesday, same exact scenario.

On Monday, you decide to help Jimmy. You help him with the homework problem, help him tie his shoes, help him find whatever way he needs to calm down.

On Tuesday, you do exactly the same thing.

Same Jimmy  problem – utter frustration at trying to do something; same parent reaction  – helping him do it.

What’s the difference?

Well, let’s say that on Monday, maybe Jimmy really, really, really needed this help. And your assistance was the only thing that helped him (a) calm down and (b) do it. “Waiting it out,” “setting limits,” “using ‘tough love,’” “not coddling him,” etc., etc., etc., not only would not have helped …  it would have sent him completely over the edge. And you would be sailing right over it with him.

On Tuesday, however, maybe Jimmy actually could have done this on his own, and if you had waited long enough, maybe he would have calmed himself down and done it himself. But … you already helped him do it.

Keep in mind, again, that you started with the exact same scenario both days, and you did exactly the same thing.

The difference?

On Monday, you were helping him cope.

On Tuesday, you were enabling.

In other words ….

On Monday, you were a wonderful, helpful, compassionate, supportive parent.

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And on Tuesday?

On Tuesday, you were a sh*tty, coddling, enabling, overprotective parent.

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Now let’s flip the scenario.

You DON’T help out on either day.

On Monday, Jimmy has such a total meltdown of frustration, that it is an absolute nightmare; you both will be sobbing and yelling and then completely drained and exhausted, and everyone in the household will be feeling the disastrous aftermath for the rest of the day …. and probably much longer.

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On Tuesday, Jimmy actually accomplishes something on his own, and he feels successful, and you feel wonderful, and you are both so happy and proud … for the rest of the day, and probably much longer. Yay!!!

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And here again –

You started with the same exact scenario, and you did exactly the same thing ….

Except that this time, on Monday, you were a sh*tty parent, and on Tuesday, you were a wonderful parent.

As Charlie Brown used to say ….

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Somebody once said (not Charlie Brown … and there would be a citation here if we could actually remember who), “Inconsistency is the hallmark of neurological disorder.”

This means that on Monday, Jimmy really could NOT do it. And on Tuesday, he really COULD.  And then maybe on Wednesday, he could NOT again.

IT CHANGES EVERY DAY.

And there you are, trying to guess which kind of day it is,, a “Monday” day or a “Tuesday” day, and which of your reactions will be the incredibly necessary “helping him cope” (when he really, really, really needs the help) versus the awful , dreaded and – let’s not forget – horribly-prone-to-judgment-and-criticism – “enabling/coddling/etc.” (when he doesn’t).

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Crazy yet?

OK, since we know your head is spinning, we’ll give you a really easy question to finish up with:

If you do help your child in one of those frustrating moments, guess which scenario people on the “outside” are most likely to pin on you, whether it is a “Monday” or a “Tuesday?”

(PS – For a comic book version of this post – the first installment of “The Adventures of ‘Issues’ Mom” – click here!

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