Recently I’ve been working with a child who was having some troubles with eating her lunch at school. Right before lunch time she would feel hungry, then upon arriving at the canteen she would lose her appetite. She said she felt the canteen was dirty and uncomfortable and she just didn’t want to eat when she got there (although she would often find that she could eat her yoghurt, just not her sandwiches!)

I was writing about this case in the NLP4Kids newsletter this week and mentioned the power of independence. I suggested to this child, who was also a generally fussy eater, that she could begin helping to cook the dinner. I explained (and you might find it a little surprising that I explained to her the methodology of what I was doing instead of just trying to “coax” her into the idea- but I like to be honest with my clients, even the children) that sometimes when children help with cooking the dinner, it makes them get a bit more curious about food. They end up eating and trying more foods because they feel like they’ve had some part in creating it. She seemed pretty open to this idea and we started to do a couple of dislike to like processes to help her feel more encouraged to eat some foods she had previously been avoiding.

Half way through one of the processes, she suddenly stopped me and and said in a most excited tone “I’ve just had a really good idea! I could make my own lunch for school too. I can have other things for lunch, like pasta instead of sandwiches….”

I also once worked with a young chap who had very bad eczema. As part of his treatment he had to apply a cream in the evening and refrain from scratching at the eczema as much as possible. He came to see me because his parents were worried about his attitude which was quite negative and that his self esteem was very low. After working with him for a while, he told me that his mum had made him some mittens that he had to wear in the evenings to stop him from scratching his skin. Because of this, she would have to apply his cream for him. I thought this was a little odd. I’ve heard of scratch mits for babies but this guy way 15 years old.

In having him wear the mittens and with mum applying his cream for him, he was in a very powerless position. It was difficult for him to take responsibility for improving himself emotionally, because he wasn’t even taking control (or being offered the opportunity) to take care of his own body. By using the mittens, he was avoiding the consequences of what would happen if he infected his skin by scratching. By having his mum apply the cream, she was dealing with his problem skin. He wasn’t.

It’s difficult to step back sometimes and watch children learn to do things for themselves. They mess it up! We can (as experienced adults) do it far better than they can (we think.)

Recently I helped out at a kids camp. At snack time we got the children to cut up their own apples. I had 2 children to oversee. One of them had clearly never used a knife before. It was a round ended knife but sharp enough to cut an apple. I was cold sweating as I watched him chop up this apple. I advised him the best I could, told him to slow down and spoke in a calm voice. Guess what….He cut his finger. Not much. It was still attached to his hand. But seriously it was a cut about 4 mm long and not terribly deep, though there was a lot of blood and he did keep squeezing that blood out of the tiny cut. The blood went all over the apple. It was a bit of a nightmare.

Next time I get him to cut apples, he will be more careful.

Sometimes we think we are helping others and protecting them by doing things for them, organising for them, thinking for them. Sometimes we do this when their behaviour is appalling. We just can’t help helping them. I had a boyfriend once who was always getting into trouble and I was always bailing him out. I lent him a lot of money, I helped him with his disciplinary when he got into trouble at work and when he was caught drink driving, I picked him up from the police station, took him home and paid for his car to get released from the pound. At the time, I just couldn’t help helping. I couldn’t stop myself because I could see the pain it would cause him if I didn’t save him.

The problem was, I was preventing him from learning and growing. I was preventing him from being independent and taking charge, I was neglecting him of an opportunity to man up and take responsibility.

There was even a point when I realised this, but I still kept doing it!

Now of course it is always the individuals responsibility to change or improve or learn, but this can be a difficult thing to do if someone close by is an “enabler.” This means that they enable the old behaviour to continue by giving too much support, assistance, money- whatever it may be.

Perhaps there is someone close to you, who you wish so much would change, improve, grow up, take responsibility whatever it may be. Now consider how what you are doing is holding them back.

It doesn’t feel good to sit back and watch a child cut their finger with a knife, but he was very proud of that cut and put in a special request to chop apples with me the next day. (I said no- I wasn’t sure my heart could take it.) But the point is, he didn’t want me to chop the apples for him. he wanted to do it himself.