Why is my child pretending to be helpless?
And what do I do?

by Linda Michie, Executive Director and Founder at Wishing Well Adoption & Family Services
Ahhh, the old helpless routine… Sometimes quite the mystery. She can’t do something today that she did easily yesterday. What’s going on here?

Often she’s just asking for some of your time, to be close, have you to herself. Sometimes she’s manipulating you hoping for a little experience with power.

Tips to cure In our children’s journey from complete helplessness to complete autonomy, there’s a whole lot of gray area, a negotiation if you will, for care and control, closeness and separation. How your child enters into these negotiations is largely based on how you handle them from the start. Do you encourage independence? Are you there to help when help is needed?

So, as we’ve discussed before, you teach your child a skill, you show them how proud you are, then you teach them to feel their own pride. I’m not suggesting that this process is perfectly linear, I’m just providing a general outline. Once your child masters a skill, you can leave them to it, saying “you’ve got this!” leaving the room so they can experience their independence. If they haven’t mastered the skill and need more help, of course, you can teach until they get it.

If they whine and beg for you to perform the skill after you know they have mastered it, there’s something else going on. They need your attention or time, or they are manipulating you to experience power.

Being me, I’d go to the more pleasant fix first. Sit down with your child and establish a regular time when they will have your complete attention (not when they’re whining). Make a Mommy and Me Tuesday and go walk the trails at Red Wing Park, or take a kite to Mt. Trashmore. Play together. Point out some of the things they can do all by themselves. Say “doesn’t it feel good to master that jungle gym all by yourself?” “Look at you flying that kite!” Make sure your child has that steady positive input from you that they need as much as water and air.

If that doesn’t improve things, consider you may be a victim of manipulation and feel free to encourage your child to do his very best and walk away.

If those suggestions don’t work, please call (757) 739-2118 for a parenting coach and we’ll try to work out if there’s something bigger going on.

As always I wish you much joy in your parenting experiences.

Linda Michie

Linda Michie

Executive Director and Founder at Wishing Well Adoption & Family Services
Linda Michie holds a Master's degree in Urban Studies, and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice from Old Dominion University.
Linda has worked in the child welfare field since 1999 and is a Licensed Child Placing Agent.
Wishing Well assists in domestic adoptions in the state of Virginia, and provides parenting coaching, and supervised visitation in Virginia Beach, VA.
Linda Michie

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