Child May Need Nudge to Become Self-Reliant

Dear Dr. Fournier:

I have always helped my daughter with her schoolwork. Every day when she came home from school, I would sit with her and see what she had to do for homework. Together we would decide what she had to do first, and then she would do it. She is now in high school and I thought all those years of modeling would help her learn how to do her work on her own. Instead, she is falling apart. She can’t decide what to do unless I plan it with her. How can I break this dependency on me? She has always done well in school and now her grades are suffering. I feel that I have no choice but to help her.

Monica B.

Toledo, OH

Dear Monica:


Most parents follow two schools of thought regarding homework help. Some parents believe their children shou1d be able to do everything on their own, while other parents believe their children need some parental guidance. Usually, the answer falls between the two.

In our desire to be good parents and give our children some help along the way, too often we create what I call “Push Button Children.” The “Push Button Child” does what he or she has to do as long as parents push the right buttons:

“Do your social studies first so you can practice your spelling words after.”

“We need to go to the library on Saturday to get the book for your book report.”

“You need to make a ninety on this test to maintain your A average.”

Many children respond beautifully to task completion, but only when the parent has pushed the right command button to get them going. Without the button push, nothing is accomplished.

At some point, parents need to gradually reduce their role in the child’s school responsibilities, but at the same time make the child aware of what the buttons are and how to push them on their own. This is not as easy as it sounds because a child who has never pushed his or her own buttons is not going to feel safe doing so without assistance.

The key question, of course, is:

“When is my child ready to push her own buttons?”

By the time your child is in middle school, you should begin to identify these push buttons and move the child toward self-reliance. Some children may be able to do this earlier, but this intangible skill needs to be mastered by the seventh grade so that it is in place as the high-school workload nears. Learning to push the buttons alone will help make your child a self-starter, a self-monitor and a self-motivator.


With your child, make a list of the characteristics of an independent and responsible student. Bear in mind that an independent and responsible student is not necessarily one who has perfect grades. He or she is simply a student who understands the job description and carries it out well with a minimum of intervention.

For example, an independent and responsible student will confront and be forced to deal with content that he or she does not understand. The important thing is not the comprehension but the fact that the student does something about it without falling apart.

A sample list of some of the characteristics may include:

  • Set clear goals that are achievable with effort (Unrealistic goals will disillusion a child striving for what will result in failure.)
  • Establishes priorities so that when one task is completed, the student knows what to tackle next. (For example: Organizing your work so that the assignments that require heavy thinking and learning are dealt with when the child is fresh, while creative or drilling work is saved for later.)
  • Measures time and allocates the time to complete each task well. (Time is after all, a student’s most valuable possession.)
  • Is always prepared to answer the question: “If I had a quiz tomorrow, would I do as well as I’d like?”

    Remember that this is a process. As you have learned, you can’t turn off your help overnight. During transition, have your daughter check in with you regularly, but help her learn to stick with the new process so that she can experience success with self-reliance.

  • Dr. Yvonne Fournier
    Dr. Yvonne Fournier


    Yvonne Fournier
    Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. She has followed her own roadmap in becoming arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today.