This is the standard phrase for many therapists. Perhaps it is the standard phrase for one of your friends as well. But what does it mean? What does it portend? Is the therapist or the friend expecting some grand disclosure? The expectation seems to be high when in actuality, I just want to keep going until I feel finished or done. If you give me a second and don’t jump in, I can pretty much get there on my own. Now, I am not saying that you don’t mean well, but it is a bit like offering help that I don’t really need.

Do you remember those scenes? Someone offers you help that you don’t really need and certainly don’t want. As a result, some little irritation forms, and you are diminished rather than elevated. This happens quite frequently with children. They are in the process of developing mastery. And yes, they are struggling a bit, but they are persistent, and if you just wait, they will accomplish the task on their own and feel quite proud of themselves. However, for some reason, you cannot wait. You jump ahead of them and complete the task for them. That message is powerful.

One of the worst cases of this that I have ever seen is an elementary school boy who is slow to complete written assignments. When he is done, they are appropriate for his age and quite a stable product. However, his mother cannot tolerate the time it takes him to think through what he wants to write and to produce the product. So, she writes the papers for him and sends him out to play. I am not kidding. She writes the papers for him and sends him out to play. The powerful message is that “you are not good at writing things or thinking through things”. That message sticks, and all the way through high school, she writes his papers. Then he goes off to college, and she stays home! He has been robbed of his own intellect. I know he can think. I know he can create. I know he can research and synthesize, but he does not know this. The task of relearning and undoing the damage done by our “well-meaning” parents is a difficult process.

Some children/grownups take up the challenge and have success. Some avoid the challenge and stay stuck in lower-level places where they don’t belong. Some fall further into the hole and cannot get out.

I think of this when I want to jump in and rescue. I ask myself if I am helping them or helping me. That is a serious question that we should all be asking. Sometimes you just must miss the bus to give that child time to tie the shoes. I would much rather see that child’s smile in mastering the shoe-tying exercise than meet the bus driver’s schedule.

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