One factor in fostering autonomy is allowing children to face “manageable challenges.”

There is a phenomenon today called, “helicopter parenting.” These are parents who hover over their children in order to protect them from any degree of frustration, disappointment or pain.

Though they are well meaning, helicopter parents undermine their child’s development.

Self-esteem doesn’t happen when we pat kids on the back and tell them how awesome they are, or give every child on the team a trophy because we don’t want to psychologically damage them.

It also doesn’t mean that we never say “no” for fear of scarring them for life.

Children develop self- esteem by meeting manageable challenges. It means letting a child struggle with a puzzle or building materials until they finally accomplish their goal. It means allowing, and insisting, children do for themselves what they are capable of doing, and not stepping in to do it for them because it is faster or more convenient.

But what is the difference between a manageable challenge and one that is overwhelming and potentially damaging?

A manageable challenge is one in which the child has the inner or external resources to cope.

For example, a child is putting a puzzle together for the first time and is beginning to show some frustration. He sighs, slumps his shoulders and looks anxiously about. I read the body language and pause to observe for further signs of stress.

But suddenly his face lights up, he picks up a puzzle piece and successfully adds it to the puzzle and goes on to complete it by himself. He has successfully met the challenge through his own inner resources.

Or, let’s assume he continues to exhibit stress behaviors. He sighs again, puffs out his lip, picks up a piece and throws it down and glares at the puzzle. His stress is obviously escalating.

I sit down next to him and offer a clue that might help.

“Look at the color of the policeman’s raincoat. Do you see any more yellow pieces?” He scans the table and quickly finds another yellow piece that fits.

His demeanor returns to a state of calm and he is back on track to finish the puzzle. This child has just met a manageable challenge with a minimal amount of external support.

These are the kinds of experiences that help children grow. I would have robbed the child of a chance to grow had I stepped in and completed the puzzle for him.

Keep this in mind today – and share your questions and experiences here!