Gavin Mann, 4, of Vernon, BC, is a competent little guy. Problem is, he doesn't act like it. Gavin still wants his mom, Kim, to do everything for him. "Although he's perfectly able, he won't put on his shirt, pick up his toys, or even go pee by himself!" she says.
A kid who acts helpless when he's not might be afraid of making a mistake, or want a little more attention. Or he may have come to expect a lot of hand-holding. Whatever the reason, your preschooler will be better off if you can help him be more independent. Putting ketchup on his fries for him won't do that. Neither will nagging ("When will you ever learn?"), criticizing ("You're so lazy"), or yelling ("Do it yourself!"), says Becky Bailey, Ph.D., author of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. Better ideas:
Go 50-50 at first. Meet your child halfway. Say, "You put this shoe on and then I'll put the other one on for you." Then be his cheerleader: "I see that you're having a hard time, but look, you got your foot partway in. There you go -- Wow! You did it all by yourself!"
* Challenge him a little. When you're not in the midst of a struggle, ask your child to tell you three things he can do by himself. Then have him pick one to show you. If he decides he can pour his own juice and then hesitates in the middle ("What if I spill it?"), encourage him to keep going ("Everybody spills sometimes, but you're doing a great job!").
* Make time for fun. Your child wants to be with you, and having you take care of every little thing guarantees that you'll be together plenty. Make sure he knows you have time for other -- more fun -- activities: If you play trucks or blocks or read a book every afternoon, having you dress him might not matter so much. His transition from helpless to confident may take a while, but soon you'll both wonder if there's anything he can't do!