Is My Child an “Under–functioner”?


I once worked with a couple who always over–functioned for their child, doing things for him that he could do himself. This son always skated through classes because the parents gets someone to do his homework for him. Everything at home is prepared by the maid even waking up in the morning to school has to be reminded several times by the parents. As such, he did not learn how to rely on his own abilities, blame others if he does not get what he wanted, take the necessary risks, develop the ability to think for himself, fight with the mother and at times he even overacted showing his fist to his mother.

His parents could not tolerate their own anxiety about unhappiness of their son if he does not get what he wanted or the pain of watching him struggle. By over-functioning for him, they inadvertently robbed his of the skills and practice necessary to develop competence and mastery in his life.

The bottom line is that if a parent’s emotional needs are met through their child, essentially they’re tying his shoes for his every step of the way.

If you have a child who has been diagnosed with a learning disability or a behavioral disorder, it gives you even more of a reason to do too much for them. It may even feel as if it’s expected and natural to over–focus on your child. But understand that it’s not really doing them any favors in the long run, because they’re not learning how to do things for themselves. And one day, your child will need to go out into the world and function as an adult. Of course, it's important to understand their disability and help them when appropriate, but try not to let your anxiety compel you to overdo for them and underdo for yourself. When that happens, you run the risk of ending up angry, resentful and burned out.

What do adult under–functioners look like? Under–functioners are skilled in the art of “learned helplessness.” They have quite literally learned to be helpless, because someone was always there to pick up the pieces for them. They often act irresponsibly, aren’t able to handle uncomfortable emotions well, float without goals, become ill a lot, can tend to become addicted to substances, ask for advice when they need to figure things out for themselves and get others to always help them. They will often search out a partner who will take care of their needs and pick up where their parents left off. And keeping a job is hard for under–functioners, because they’re always looking for someone to swoop in and rescue them. For many people who were raised this way, the world is a scary place—and instead of venturing out and making a life for themselves, they choose to stay home with mom and dad indefinitely.

Continue Reading Are You Doing Too Much For Your Child?

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