Dear Rachel,

I am worried about my seven-year-old daughter. She is a very sweet girl and has a lot going for her, but she seems very insecure. She always asks permission to do things that no one needs permission to do, and she is always checking to see if she is doing the right thing. For example, she’ll ask, “Mommy, I dropped my fork. Can I pick it up?” And after I give her permission to pick it up, she’ll say something like, “That was good that I picked it up, right?” I am worried about my seven-year-old daughterMy other kids would never ask such questions—in fact, if they dropped a fork, they’d just leave it on the floor for someone else to pick up! What can I do to help my daughter become more confident?

Concerned Mommy

Dear Concerned,

As Jews, we are cognizant of the Torah’s commandment to honor and respect our parents. But there is a big difference between being respectful and being insecure.

The mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim—honoring one’s mother and father—does require that children ask their parents for permission to do certain things. For instance, it is a mitzvah to ask permission to leave the table after a meal (as in “May I please be excused?”). It is a mitzvah to ask permission to explain one’s behavior after being accused of a wrongdoing (as in “May I please explain?”). It is even a mitzvah to ask permission to refrain from obeying a parent (as in “I know you asked me to wear a sweater, but could I please not wear it, because I feel warm enough without it?”). However, all of these questions involve the relationship between the parent and child. In the first example, the child is leaving the presence of the parent. In the second, the child is explaining his behavior after being confronted by a parent. And in the third one, the parent has given an instruction to the child.

Your daughter’s situation is quite different. She doesn’tYour daughter’s situation is quite different need to ask permission to function independently. If you had made a rule that no one should touch things that are on the floor, then her question would be permitted. However, in the absence of such a rule, your daughter needs to be able to behave independently. Don’t encourage dependence by answering such questions. Instead, encourage her to make her own decisions. For example:

Child: “Mommy, I dropped my fork. Can I pick it up?”

Parent: “That’s up to you.”

Child: “I picked it up. That was good, right?”

Parent: “What do you think?”

The trick here is to be consistent. Children with this sort of anxious behavior tend to be persistent and even a bit tricky in their approach. They’ll ask a question one way, and if they don’t get an answer, they’ll ask it another way and then another, until the parent finally gives them the answer they are looking for. For instance:

Child: “Eight o’clock is bedtime, right?”

Parent: “What do you think?”

Child: “I think it is, but am I right?”

Parent: “What do you think?”

Child: “Well, I know it’s not seven o’clock. It’s not seven o’clock, right?”

Parent: “What do you think?”

Child: “I want to know what you think!”

Parent: “I think you know all these answers.”

Child: “Yes, but last night I went to bed just before eight, so can I stay up till eight tonight?”

And so on. Such children are not trying to drive you crazyShe is not trying to drive you crazy (although it may seem otherwise). They are going through an anxious process. Giving up and giving in—giving them the answer they are seeking—causes this anxious process to grow stronger in the brain. Although it may seem cruel in the short run, the kindest thing you can do in the long run is to help the anxious wiring shrivel up by forcing your child to find her own truth. When she does so again and again, she will build feelings—and neural pathways—of confidence and security.