As a parent, I'm what I like to call a "fixer." My kids, however, might prefer the term "control freak." This comes out in lots of ways, from how I try to edit a school essay, mend a frayed friendship, or seize control of the pancake batter because it's quicker, more efficient, and, heaven knows, neater.
Fixers like me mean well; we're just not always on track. "I'm trying to distinguish the times I'm stepping in because I think that my child will suffer in some way if I don't from the times I just don't want something to reflect poorly on my kids or myself or my husband," says Claudia Von Savage, a mom of four in Cape May, NJ. For those uncertain moments, we offer this primer on when to ride in on your white horse -- and when to encourage your kid to take charge.
Problem: A Playdate is Going Downhill
Stay OUT If... The tiff is rankling your nerves, not theirs. Once when one of my daughter Alexis's pals was over, she kept snarkily proclaiming that Alexis's prized stuffed dog, Poochie, didn't like her anymore and wanted a new owner. Alexis was unfazed. I, on the other hand, was getting steamed. But jumping in with "Does not!" would have done nothing to prove my maturity, nor would it have encouraged Alexis's admirable confidence to rise above the taunting. A good rule of thumb comes from Blackstone, MA, social worker and parent coach Bill Chaplin. "You want to problem-solve with them," he says, "not for them."
In fact, even loud voices don't necessarily signal a kid crisis. Flare-ups between Rachel Lampert and her cousin, both 6, can sound testy, but they almost always blow over. "It's hard, but I try to just let it go," says Rachel's mom, Debbie Lampert, of New City, NY. "Most of the time they work it out, and two minutes later, they're playing again."
Butt In If... The yelling picks up, the dreaded "I want to go home!" is uttered, or, worse, somebody gets bonked. "That's when I'd intervene," says Nancy Moreland, a mother of three from Chattanooga, TN. Usually, Moreland says, intervention means offering guidance about how to play fair. But sometimes, she adds, if things are really bad, it's more of a "swoop in and rescue" mission, either helping them start a new game or having them take a break for a snack, which is almost always a quick peacemaker.
Problem: Your First-Grader's Face Drops When He Gets Sent Down the Giant Chutes and Ladders Slide.
Stay OUT If... You're afraid losing will hurt his feelings. Losing is one of those stinky facts of life -- and it's no fun to watch, either -- but that doesn't mean you should save your kids from the experience. Once kids are 6 or 7, they should be able to get the concept of winning and losing, notes Chaplin.
"I tell my boys, 'Everybody gets to win sometimes and lose sometimes,'" says Lisa Porter of Columbus, IN, the mom of Ben and Evan, ages 7 and 5. Usually the agony of defeat is forgotten more quickly than you might think, she adds.
Butt In If... You start to hear claims like "You cheated!" Cries of foul play can quickly escalate, so redirect your kids to something less competitive. They may also mean a particular game is over their heads. One or both of the kids just may not get the rules or understand what counts as cheating, notes Eileen Deamer, the Chicago mom of an 8- and a 5-year-old.