Two kids in their hockey uniforms sit on the ice, covered in ice shavings from playing a game of hockey.


Don’t Do All The Heavy Lifting For Kids — They Might Actually Learn Something

Jan 19, 2022

I’m the dad of four boys.

Yes, four boys.

It may sound like a lot, but my wife and I manage just fine.

But as each kid grew up, I did struggle with one thing: knowing when to help and when to let them figure it out on their own.

It’s the type of parenting dilemma I would talk to my wife about often, usually when we’d take trips to the store to buy baby carrots.

All I knew was that I didn’t want to lead my boys down a path where they would need to completely rely on someone else.

So, I wondered: When is a good time to instill self-reliance in my kids?

Susan Goldberg says she is clueless about sports, but that doesn't stop her from enjoying something her son loves: hockey.

I’m a Hockey Dad

The answer revealed itself on the ice.

Three of my boys got involved in hockey, and as I sat at the entrance of dozens of rinks over the years, I watched as parents, grandparents and caregivers trudged into each rink, hauling a child’s hockey bag in one hand, a stick in the other, and a hot coffee clutched under their chin.

What was going on?

If kids are physically able, shouldn’t they be doing that for themselves?

Generational Labour

The whole theatre of it brought me back to a memory from my parents, who would tell me how they did weekly chores, including cleaning the house, all the while riding horses and walking everywhere.

You’ve probably heard someone older talking about how they walked to and from school, uphill, in feet of snow, without complaint.

"I didn’t want to lead my boys down a path where they would need to completely rely on someone else."

While snow is often not as treacherous as it once was, and fewer kids have access to farm chores, there are plenty of things kids can do to learn some responsibility.

Picking up toys, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, doing dishes and cleaning up their room all seem, at least to me, like age-appropriate expectations.

And for many kids, they are.

But I think I’d go a step further, just because I’ve seen the opposite for too long: kids can carry their own hockey bag.

Pulling Their Own Weight

My carry-your-own concept doesn’t apply to just hockey — it applies to any activity wherein a parent is made the defacto pack mule.

I think a kid dragging a bag across snow hills is challenging, sure, but I also see it building resiliency.

Over time, a heavy bag becomes easier to carry. By the age of five, my own children were able to carry or pull their own hockey bag.

I worry that resigning ourselves to bag stewards sets an impression among our kids that grown-ups are not just on the hook to provide all of life’s necessities, but to also be their personal assistants, anticipating every struggle and mood. 

Is This A Culture of Doing Too Much?

I know that life has changed.

Kids these days receive a medal or ribbon for just showing up.

But I think this is too much.

I’ve watched my kids grow up and I’ve seen how resilient they can be. I’ve seen the capacity of youth, and I know firsthand that kids can do more and handle more than society often gives them credit for.

There are times to step in, of course. For some kids, tying skates is tricky because they don’t have the finger strength, and I have definitely needed to be on standby for lacing up.

But I also believe in encouraging my kids to invest their time in the things they care about. If they are interested in hockey, for example, that means taking the time to practice lacing up skates and carrying their heavy bags.

Every parent knows their own kids' stressors. Some will require more hand-holding than others, but I think it’s important to ask the question: am I imposing limitations on my kids before I even give them the opportunity to try?

Finish What They Start

As a parent, I want my kids to be responsible and finish what they start.

In our house, we’ve adopted a “no quitting” philosophy.

I’m a long-time teacher, and I’ve always held true a mantra that children must invest in the process of whatever it is they are involved in.

If a kid is responsible for lugging a 15-pound backpack, stuffed with books and supplies, a water bottle and lunch, then surely they can handle the weight of their own passions outside of school.

I believe it’s a great lesson in responsibility to make them the managers of their own success.

"In our house, we’ve adopted a 'no quitting' philosophy."

And if they forget something? I believe that in time they will learn not to.

Like when I drove across Calgary to a hockey session in frosty winds, knowing my six-year-old did not put his stick in the van. We arrived, he cried and he got over it.

But it only happened once.

Had he continued to forget it, then it would be a good signal that he wasn’t committed to hockey, and then we would have had to have a conversation about what that meant.

Thankfully we had a proactive discussion to discuss what signing up for hockey really means. And for any parents entering the world of kids' sports, I think a similar conversation is worth the effort.

With the expensive cost of entry and the potential pitfalls of single-sport specialization, Natalie Romero doesn't see the value of a huge commitment to hockey.

Life is Hard

There will be difficulties in life, just like there are in sports.

I want my kids to experience age-related difficulties, and I do not panic if they fail or lose. And if something is hard, I don’t view that as a reason not to do something.

I don’t want to set unreasonable expectations for my kids, like that they will be praised any time they show up.

For my kids, I only expect that they work hard to conquer their stepping stones. That they say hello, goodbye, please and thank you.

I want my kids to grow up into independent men. People who are responsible, caring and involved in their community. But most importantly, I want them to be invested in what they do.

Article Author Paul Gagnon
Paul Gagnon

Paul Gagnon is the father of four boys and is a long-time teacher from Calgary, Alberta, specializing in mental health, social studies and best practices in assessment. When he's not teaching, coaching or attending his kids' sporting events, he enjoys spending time laughing with his family, reading, golfing, firing up the barbecue and going for long walks with his wife and their dogs.

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