Learning to Step Back

While making dinner one night, my 12-year-old daughter Bella came into the kitchen and informed me she had the sniffles and was sneezing. I did a quick inventory to make sure it was nothing serious. Cheeks a nice shade of rosy red- not flushed or pale; hand to forehead- no fever, “Say Ahh”-tonsils looked normal- by my unscientific mom standards she seemed fine so I told her to take some over the counter medicine from the cabinet. She looked at me confused and said, “I don’t know what to take.”

Now at this point I knew I had two choices: I could hand her the spoon and tell her to stir my stir-fry while I got her the medicine; or, I could step back, allow her to be more independent and learn a very important life skill by getting the medicine herself. I chose option two obviously from the title of this article.

Yes, I told my very surprised tween daughter to think about her symptoms, read the boxes and figure out which of the shelves full of cough syrups, antacids and cold medicine was right for her… and to consult with me before taking anything of course. With an eye roll and a foot stomp she made her way reluctantly to the medicine cabinet.

As I sautéed the onions, I periodically glanced over my shoulder to see how Bella was doing. I could see her struggling as she tried to decipher if a decongestant was the right choice. “Relieves sinus pressure, fever and nasal congestion” she read out loud. “But I don’t have a fever, I’m just sneezing” she said to herself. “When I’m like that it’s usually allergies and not a cold” I threw out there hoping she would consider my unsolicited offering of information.

Bella thought for a few minutes then put the box of wrong medicine down. I secretly let out a sigh of relief and continued to fight every urge in my body to go over there and help my poor little runny nose sneezy baby girl. “Step Back Sharon!” I told myself. “She can do this. She needs to learn to do this! I need to step back and let her try.”

AND SHE DID DO IT TOO! After much inner debate my girl held up a box with the non- drowsy antihistamine in it and said with a huge smile on her face, “This one, right?” “That is it!” I said with an even bigger smile. She took her medicine and was about to leave when she skipped back over to me and kissed my cheek. “Thanks mom, for well, not helping me!”

I was so proud of us both that night. I had successfully helped my girl by…not helping! I took a step back, let my child struggle a little and did not bail her out. I’ll admit it was hard, but that smile on her face when she figured it out on her own, the confidence in her step when she walked away… that is what it is all about.

Parenting is hard

This parenting business is hard! Just when you think you finally got a hang of it and start to relax because your kid can bathe, feed and for the most part entertain themselves; you enter a whole new stage of life- TWEENS. Suddenly this child who you thought you knew becomes a walking bundle of contradictions. One minute they are asking to sleep in your bed because it’s thundering, the next they are arguing why they need a cell phone- you know so they will be able to check the weather and warn you ahead of time when they will be sleeping your bed!

How are you supposed to step back comfortably and hand over the helm when your little sailor goes overboard at the first sight of a storm cloud? Simple, by using the GPS. (The parenting acronym I’m about to share, not the app on that cell phone they are bugging you to buy them.)

G is for GUIDANCE not HELP

It’s hard to step back and watch our kids try and do something on their own when we know there is a better, easier, correct way of doing things. After all, isn’t that our job as their parents? Shouldn’t we help them do the best they can? But the more we try and help them, especially when they don’t want our help, the more resentful they become. (Cue eye rolling, foot stomping!) As our kids transition into tween, teen and yes… gulp, adults- our parenting role needs to transition too. This is the time where we need to think and act more like a consultant to them: offer advice, information and guidance, not help! When we realize that this is our new goal as parents, it takes some pressure off and allows you to step back and let our kids try out their new roles too!  Speaking of pressure…


I’m not talking about our kids feeling pressured by their friends; I’m talking about parent peer pressure and this bad habit we have to compare ourselves to others. The problem is, when we compare ourselves, it only makes us feel better or worse… depending on whom we are comparing ourselves to. Besides, the only one who can really judge whether or not you are a good parent is YOU!

Not to mention, this way of thinking can directly get in the way of our kids becoming their own unique selves. Don’t believe me… have you ever told your fashionista she cannot wear the plaid skirt with the polka dotted blouse to school just because you did not want the teacher or other moms to think you have no fashion sense? Yea okay I did that! But now I take a step back, stop, and analyze ‘why” I am doing something and make sure it is not related to just showing others that I am a good parent with great fashion sense.

And now for the most important part of all…

S is for STAY Calm

Staying calm is much easier said than done. After all, these are our babies we are talking about. We worry about their future, we worry about what is going on in school, if they are happy, okay. We spend a good portion of our time parenting based on our worries. But what if you were able to put an imaginary fence around your worries? Like a dog needs a fence in the back yard so he doesn’t run away; what if you did the same thing? If you knew for sure that the things you are worried about would never happen, would you parent your child differently?

No matter how much we want to, we can cannot control the future and all those what ifs that might happen. But we can control how we choose to react to things that are happening now.

Learning to step back is not just about giving your child more freedom and space…it’s about allowing yourself a chance to stop, pause, reflect. It’s about watching your child dig through the medicine cabinet and knowing it is going to be okay; because she knows, without you ever saying a word, that you are right there- stirring the stir-fry, ready to help, without really helping!

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Posted in Psychology of Tweendom

Written by 

Sharon Fuentes is an award winning freelance writer, special needs parenting advisor, founder/editorial director of the free online resource Zoom Autism Magazine and the author of the book, The Don’t Freak Out Guide to Parenting Kids with Asperger’s. You can reach her at sharon@sharonfuentes.com