Thursday, 25 September 2014

Help(er) or hindrance?

The other day I was in a classroom working with a child-  taking him through a test of the reading strategies that he was using. I handed him the closed book and asked him to read it through quietly to himself. Interestingly, he just sat there...and sat there, until I realised that he was waiting for me to open the book for him!

This made me wonder if many of our our children are so 'supported' in their learning that they lose the ability to think and act independently. It is as if they feel that their learning cannot take place until an adult is there to help them.

This morning, I read an article published in 'is international School' entitled 'The 'Maid Phenomenon'- a worrying trend for schools?" (Bradley,G., is International School, Autumn Spring 2014 Vol 17.1 pgs 18-19) in this article Dr Bradley talks about how our maids can actually hinder the development of the life skills, independent learning and attitudes that we work on so hard to develop both through our school philosophy and curriculum.

She states that some of the consequences of 'the maid phenomenon' can include:
  • poor language development
  • promoting 'learned helplessness' which may hinder the development of self reliance
  • attachment disorders- sometimes,  maids take on the role of 'parent'
  • poor behaviour
  • children relinquishing vital skills which have become unnecessary for life in this context
  • children taking for granted that someone else will pick up after them
  • a belief that some individuals are worth less than others
This can have an impact on learning right through school. Professor Marcus du Sautoy, in his article "It's not about  the numbers" (IBWorld, September 2014, 70 pgs 11-13) states that "students lack of confidence in mathematics is a long-established problem." He goes on to state that  a PISA study found that one in three students from OECD countries said that they "were put off by by difficult problems."

I have written before about the need to develop resilience in our children. They need to be able to get up, shake themselves off and carry on when they encounter mistakes, problems or difficulties, not just not try! Teaching then to be self reliant and independent is a really important part of this. So please, ensure that you are the one spending time with your child and that you are encouraging your maid to let the child do things by themselves and most importantly, encourage your children to value your maid as a person.

As a side note, this might really help our congestion at the beginning and end of the day- maids do not have to leave the drivers to double park while they (carrying the child's schoolbag) walk them into or out of school, rather than have them wait for them with me at the top of the stairs!


  1. Dear Mrs. Webster.

    Thank you for a well-written column and for bringing this up. This is an important subject since helpless children with a helper seem endemic in Hong Kong.

    While you do mention encouraging the helper, unfortunately the research quoted makes it seem a bit as if the helpers are the problem, while in fact the parents are ultimately responsible. As you say, parents should remain "hands on" with the children even with a helper in the home. Regular and frank conversations with the helper are vitally important.

    Without guidance, helpers are typically shy about taking initiative in the fostering of the children in their care. Simply giving clear guidelines and having frequent conversations with the helper can turn the situation from the poor one described by you to one where children have not only a proper upbringing, but the added benefit of a different cultural perspective in their daily lives. Helpers can be an asset in the education of children if allowed and encouraged to. Many have university degrees. Certainly the vast majority understand the value of hard work and resilience.

    Children can still do chores even with a helper in the home. They can set and clear the table, do laundry, tidy up after themselves, vacuum and dust, water the plants, walk the dog and any number of other little jobs that are so important in building confidence and resilience. Again, parents are ultimately responsible and need to make it clear to both helper and children about these things.

    Kind regards,


    PS Full disclosure and shameless self-promotion: I am the author of the book "Hiring and Managing Domestic Help", as well as the "Agony Uncle" for helper issues on the SassyMama website. This issue comes up with some regularity in conversations with employers.

  2. Such an important topic, appreciate your thoughts... came up as a topic initially when we moved to Hong Kong and I knew it was something to outline and specify with my helper and child as well... especially noticed a difference when we were on holiday... Appreciate the suggestions made too!

  3. Carol Farrington4 October 2014 at 22:21

    I too experienced a similar response when on an Bradbury School Educational Visit with 7 and 8 year olds a couple of weeks ago. As we were standing on a path in the countryside, a child held out his water bottle and asked where he should put it whilst he retied his laces. Response - on the path.

  4. A student's response to a comprehension question this week.
    Q. Do you think this recipe will be easy to make?
    A. Yes, because my helper makes it and she goes to the local shop to get the ingredients.