Neither is wrong. Like I said, these are what caring parents do.
The trick is getting the right ratio of guiding to fixing, and knowing the limits of each.
Guiding is teaching, explaining, validating, comforting, supporting, discussing, asking questions, and encouraging exploration.
Fixing is about taking charge and changing a situation.
These are very different strategies and both should be used intentionally.
Guiding helps children learn lessons and skills that they can take with them their whole life. It is a process that takes time. It embraces life as a journey and kids need help along the way.
Guiding is appropriate for situations where safety is not an issue. It’s for when a child is capable of handling a situation or at least attempting a problem at hand. It’s for when the consequences of a wrong decision do not cause obvious harm and are age-appropriate.
Fixing is for when a child needs help because he is in an unsafe situation that is beyond his ability to see or change. It’s when the consequences for a wrong decision are obviously harmful and are not age-appropriate.
Perhaps you’ve guessed my position by now: Guiding as much as possible promotes better learning. Fixing is really for safety-specific situations.
Fixing becomes essential if a child is being abused, bullied, or feels in danger. If any of these things are happening, fix it now. Do whatever it takes. That’s your job. It teaches your child that you are there to protect them. It encourages them to get help when things become dangerous and unmanageable. That’s a good life skill. If you merely try to guide, they will be overwhelmed and feel vulnerable and alone. Choosing to guide in a dangerous situation robs children of the opportunity to build trust and sense of safety in the world.
Fixing and Parental Fear
Things become confusing for parents when we aren’t clear about what dangerous and unsafe means. I think parents who may arguably over-fix are the ones who are the most fearful. They are the ones who perceive real danger when safety is not truly threatened.
It seems to me that many parents want to rescue their kids from situations that should not be fixed.
Appropriate consequences for choices are NOT something to fix for our children. If they are late to school, they get marked tardy. If they do not do the assigned homework, they get the poor grade. If they take their sibling’s toy, they face another’s anger and displeasure. If they break a law, they appear in court.
Parents who try to fix these types of situations are doing their child a disservice. Learning through conversation, guidance, and the natural (if unpleasant) feelings that come from these consequences are what skilled parents provide.
The Problem with Over-fixing
Fixing can steal these crucial opportunities for learning while there is still time to learn to be more responsible, compassionate, and accountable. Over-fixing teaches kids they don’t need to learn how to solve problems or be accountable for their choices.
In addition, I believe children of over-fixers tend to have lower confidence and competence. This is because both confidence and competence are only developed by doing. We only feel confident in things we have done ourselves. If children don’t get comfortable making decisions, accepting consequences, and adjusting based on these “results,” they don’t gain competence.
It’s Not Easy
It’s really hard to hit the mark on the fixing/guiding balance every time. The best we can do is to be intentional and thoughtful. We can try to evaluate what we need to fix realistically. It’s important to remember that when children become grown, fixing is no longer appropriate, welcomed, or helpful.
Are you more of a fixer or a guide? Do you struggle to get this balance “right”?