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Parents, stop trying to solve your kids’ problems. Their mental health depends on it.

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Dr. Meghan Walls


Dr. Meghan Walls, who is a pediatric psychologist, wrote a letter to parents in USA Today that encourages them in how to help their children.

External affairs


Walls is also the director of external affairs in Delaware Valley for Nemours Children’s Health.



“It is not our job to solve a child’s problems for them,” Walls writes. “Instead, our job is to provide kids with the support they need and help them develop their own problem-solving tools.”

Dual role


Walls explains, “I am in a unique position in my dual role as parent and pediatric psychologist. Like most parents, I want to alleviate our children’s suffering by doing whatever I can. We hate to see our children worry and struggle.”



“With the best of intentions, we think we are being helpful by trying to solve our kids’ problems for them,” Walls explains.

Pediatric psychologist


However, as a pediatric psychologist, Walls understands that “taking this path often leads to our kids feeling more worried the next time something difficult happens.”



By solving our children’s problems for them, Walls says we interfere with our children’s ability to develop the effective coping mechanisms needed to deal with these challenges.

Stay home


In one example, Walls says “if you let your child stay home from school on a day they have a test or had an argument with a friend, their brain gets the message that avoidance is the safest option, and they will likely feel more anxious and less equipped when this comes up again.”



The recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted a concerning mental health situation among young people. In response, Nemours KidsHealth conducted a national survey called “What’s Worrying America’s Kids” involving over 500 children aged 9-13. The survey, conducted in January, focused on understanding how often children worry, what causes their worries, and how they cope with them.



Results showed that over one-third of children worry at least once a week, and this tendency to worry increases with age. Older children are more likely than younger ones to feel like their worrying will never end, with 48% of 13-year-olds and 22% of 9-year-olds expressing this sentiment.

Children’s problems


The study suggests that when we solve our children’s problems for them, we hinder their ability to develop effective coping mechanisms necessary for handling life’s challenges.



While the results may appear discouraging, the study revealed an interesting trend: among children aged 9 to 11, over 75% mentioned that they seek advice or information from their parents as their first choice. However, this percentage drops to around 51% for 12- and 13-year-olds.



This indicates a crucial period during which children are receptive to parental guidance, relying on them for support and guidance. It underscores the importance for parents and caregivers to utilize this window of opportunity to impart essential skills and coping strategies that will help their children navigate adolescence and develop into emotionally healthy individuals.

Our job


Walls says, “It is our job to provide our kids with the support they need as we help them develop the tools to solve their problems. Being there, validating kids and talking with them while they face the hard stuff is what makes kids resilient.”



Walls shared the following tips to help parents. It’s critical to know what worry looks like. “Based on our survey, we know that kids feel worry through their thoughts but also through their bodies!” Walls wrote. “Pay attention if your child has a stomachache or headache the same time daily; check in to see whether their emotions could be contributing to their physical feelings.”

Next step


The next step is to “normalize worry.” Walls says, “Let your kids know that it is normal to have worries and concerns. By normalizing worry, you can help your children feel more comfortable sitting with their worry and brainstorming ways to deal with it.”



“Validate feelings. Tell your kids you understand their worries and try to empathize with them. Do not brush off your kids’ worries by trying to push them aside. Show empathy and acceptance for how they feel, so kids feel comfortable continuing to share their thoughts and feelings,” Walls continued.



Lastly, Walls suggests asking kids what is on their minds and do not be too quick to give advice.

Ask questions


“Ask questions to learn more about what your child is worried about. Don’t try to immediately offer advice, but instead instruct your child in the direction of what would make them feel better and talk through these ideas with your child,” Walls concluded.



“This helps kids by letting them experience very small difficulties and learn how to regulate around them.”

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