The Value of Letting Your Child Solve Their Own Problems

Absolutely step in when they really need you, but letting your child solve their own problems can help them grow, says an expert from The Roeper School.

We’re parents, and that means when our kids hurt, we hurt too. The business of growing up can be tricky, even downright painful, at times. So, when our kid faces a challenge, it’s normal to want to step in and fix the problem so they can get right back to a carefree life. But letting your child solve their own problems can benefit them in the long run.

“The inclination for parents to take challenges away from their child is understandable. The world is scary, and there are real threats out there. The temptation to intervene is so human and understandable,” explains Susannah Nichols, Interim Campus Director of the Middle and Upper Schools at The Roeper School, an independent PK-12 school in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills for gifted children.

But to what extent should a parent ease their child’s day-to-day challenges, especially to pave a trouble-free existence for their child? In some cases, there’s real value in holding back and letting your child solve their own problems, Nichols says, adding that these struggles typically fall into two buckets: academic and social.

Social challenges, in particular, are intensified by the amount middle school and high school kids engage with social media and are in constant communication with friends and peers, she says.

Butt in or hold back?

To be clear, there are situations when a parent should get involved, for the physical or mental well-being of their child. But most day-to-day challenges aren’t as clear-cut, so Nichols offers a couple of points for parents to consider when deciding whether or not to step in.

“First, is a parent getting involved the first thing happening? What else has been tried? Has your child navigated the situation on their own and found no success?” she asks. Whether or not a situation escalates, it makes sense to investigate what actions were already taken by the child.

Second, when emotions run high, it’s a big help for parents to have a trusted circle of friends or peers who can see the situation more objectively and cut through the emotions to provide sound advice.

“It might be a situation where your child can be in harm’s way and you should intervene, or you may want to hold steady,” Nichols says. “A parent in your circle might have been through it before with their own child.”

Building strength and resilience

In situations where a child is upset or sad but does not need an advocate to step in and fix the problem, there are benefits to letting a child sit with the hard stuff because it can make them stronger in the long run.

“Similar to when a person is learning to play a musical instrument or a baby is learning to feed itself, building capacities and skills can be uncomfortable and even painful, but they are growing strength. That is the only way — through experience — that one develops those physical or metaphorical muscles,” Nichols says.

Photo credit: The Roeper School

Through that lived experience, a child builds capacity for resilience, which can help them move forward through life without letting day-to-day challenges derail them.

“They’re learning not because they are being told, but through their own experiences. They will be able to say ‘I tried a strategy and it worked or it didn’t, but now I know for myself what does and does not work,’” Nichols explains. “That capacity for resilience is important, but so is that legitimate experience in shaping how you make your way in the world, even if it does bring struggle.”

Letting your child solve their own problems but being there, too

As with most issues related to parenting, this approach isn’t all or nothing. There are many ways a parent can support their child without stepping in and making the problem go away. First, take some distraction-free time to listen to what your child is going through.

“There’s something valuable in just being willing to listen,” Nichols says. “As a teacher and as a parent, I know there is a temptation to go into problem-solving mode and ask how you can fix it. But there’s so much value in being present to hear about the struggle your child is facing, listening with love and with empathy, and knowing, a lot of times, that’s what they want — to be heard and understood, even if there’s no solution.”

Next, make a habit of it. Crediting her mentor Anita Sanchez for helping her learn to listen “with the softest part of her ear,” Nichols pays it forward by encouraging parents to normalize making space for their child, even when they’re not in crisis mode. “Make a routine of listening actively and having conversations about what’s good in their life or what doesn’t require immediate intervention,” she says. “Keep that honest and loving line of communication open.”

Another way to help your child manage the bumps in life is to build boundaries — and not just in response to a crisis. It can be helpful to have an immovable time to do homework, for example, rather than struggle with prioritizing school work over extracurricular activities. Or, if your child tends to struggle with friend groups, set common sense guidelines over social media use in advance of any specific challenge. Having some consistent daily time offline can even become a nice excuse for your child.

Photo credit: The Roeper School

“Think about parameters that help you live a healthy life in general. It’s hard to restrict yourself or your child when there isn’t a struggle to manage, but, for instance, when conflict sparks in a group chat, it’s easier to handle when a rule is already in place,” Nichols explains. “You’re not stepping in, but there’s an expectation built in so they can have that breathing space.”

Leverage your child’s teacher where appropriate, too. “What’s advantageous about a small school like Roeper is there’s a greater likelihood of a teacher’s connection and relationship with a student,” Nichols says. When kids get to middle or high school and have many teachers, they may also develop strong relationships with coaches or theater directors.

It’s a normal human reaction to want to fix what’s uncomfortable to watch, especially when emotions run high, but don’t be surprised if an educator takes a different tack.

“If a situation is really emotional and there are tears, it’s important to be able to take some space, so if the child is safe, a teacher might say to take 24 hours and see where we are, in order to get a calmer, healthier place to view the situation with clear eyes,” Nichols explains.

In the long run, taking a back seat can help your child become a stronger person — and a stronger problem solver, Nichols says.

“We are all invested in helping children grow to be decisive, thoughtful, thriving contributors to the world. These small-scale challenges build resilience and capacity for that work,” she says. “We want our children to go into whatever they are doing and be able to handle themselves and solve their problems.”

When individuals can take care of themselves, they’re better able to care for others — and build stronger communities as a result, Nichols says. “They can be better problem solvers for the world and more confident in their abilities to handle bigger problems and face the world with integrity and determination.”

Learn more about Roeper. Visit

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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