Backpacks Full of Important Things

By Talia Filippelli, LCSW

Of all the things you expect to find in your child’s backpack – I doubt these made the list. During a recent session, my 10-year-old client was complaining that her backpack was too heavy. So naturally, I asked, “Whatcha got in there?”

She proceeded to pull out the following items – and I’m not even kidding here.

  • 1 10-inch rubber lizard
  • 1 Millennium Falcon from Star Wars 1 plush toy frog
  • “A llama thing”
  • iPhone charger
  • cloth to clean cell phone
  • $11 cash
  • headphones
  • gum
  • gummy bears
  • A dozen army figurines
  • 2 toy cars
  • 1 panda bear
  • 1 stress ball (courtesy of me!)
  • 1 space man figurine
  • water bottle

The funniest part was that she did not find it funny at all. This was normal. This stuff was important to her, and so she carried it around. Period.

She is an amazing kid. And like many other amazing kids, she struggles in school with a few things. She’s using her time in therapy to practice many skills – one of which is staying focused in school. The backpack could easily be deemed Enemy #1. Insert a natural parental reaction here (maybe yours as you read this!): A rubber lizard? Are you kidding me?? How can she stay focused in school with all those toys at her disposal?!

If you notice your child has a similar-looking backpack full of important things, your knee-jerk reaction might be to turn it upside-down and eliminate the enemy.

As parents, we do this all the time. We see a problem, then fix it.

On the surface, it seems logical. But dig a little deeper and we see a bigger problem quietly developing. Bigger than the one you just fixed.

Consider this: Each time you swoop in and fix a problem, your child loses an opportunity to learn how to fix the problem herself.

She misses out on the chance to assess her own reality, and brainstorm ideas on how to improve the situation. Swooping in may also drive her to become secretive to avoid your angry reaction. At the very least, you are inadvertently positioning yourself as the problem-solver with a very capable child, who now sees herself as the problem.

So guess what happens next time (and there WILL be a next time) the backpack is overflowing with important things? You, not your child, will likely be “fixing” the problem yet again.

Next time you see a problem that needs fixing, consider trying this:

  1. Resist the urge to fix it.
  2. Position yourself as a guide or coach, and verbalize confidence in your child’s ability to brain-storm solutions while letting her know you are here if she gets stuck.
  3. Support her ideas by encouraging her to experiment with them to see which solutions work best. Talk about each outcome together.
  4. Repeat.

Now imagine how amazing it will feel to watch your child handle this stuff herself. You got this!