Parenting and Scaffolding


This year I am teaching a series of parenting classes called “Planful Parenting.” The goal of these classes is to give parents an opportunity to take a step back from the day-to-day challenges of parenting to think about their philosophy of parenting, their values related to parenting and how parenting your child now connects with the adult you hope your child will become. One of the parenting philosophies I am most drawn to as a child therapist and a parent is called Scaffolding. I will break down some highlights and if you want to explore more, I recommend Scaffold Parenting: Raising Resilient, Self-Reliant, and Secure Kids in an Age of Anxiety by Harold S. Koplewicz. 

We all know what scaffolding is when it refers to building. The construction crew builds a frame so that they can continue to safely build higher levels. Scaffolding in parenting is very similar. As our kids grow and try to learn and master new developmental tasks and skills, we can create a similar support system. The idea is that when your child first starts trying to master a new skill or task, as the parent, you increase your support around that skill. As they become more competent and successful, you withdraw your support so they can do “it” more independently.  

There are many things that parents are trained to “scaffold”, for example, potty training. We wouldn’t dream of expecting our 2–3-year-old to use the potty without any instruction or support. We know that it is a process that takes time and our support. We start by helping our children with every aspect of using the bathroom from recognizing the urge to washing their hands. Multiple steps happen between us helping with everything and a child becoming completely independent.   

There are other skills your child must learn that you might not think about approaching using scaffolding. Take, for example, making friends.  Making friends requires your child to have a number of skills that you can scaffold. One skill is being able to take turns speaking and listening. You can practice this at home by playing board games, role playing. or modeling how to ask questions to learn about another person. (Here is a great article with evidence-backed strategies to help your child make friends.)   

Scaffolding isn’t just for your young child; your teen will benefit as well. Getting a driver's license is a perfect example of build-in scaffolding. But what about the cell phone? Many times, parents don’t think about how to scaffold its use. In this instance, scaffolding could start with the parent knowing all the passwords and reviewing social media accounts with the youth on a regular basis.  Talking about how companies target you for ads or how filters are used to reduce people’s flaws in pictures are both examples of issues you can discuss during these collaborative reviews. Eventually, you will move from regular review to spot checks with the end goal of completely stopping the monitoring. 

Can you think of other areas parents routinely “scaffold” besides potty training?  Are there aspects of parenting that you aren’t currently “scaffolding” but you can see the value of applying this strategy?  We would love to hear your experiences!


About Author

Lisa Allred

Work Life Program Manager

Lisa Allred comes to SAS with a long history of working with families throughout the lifespan. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Wake Forest Universtity and her Masters in Social Work from UNC-CH, her career began as a child therapist focusing on parenting, anxiety and trauma. She then moved into college counseling where she emphasized student wellness and balance.

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