Let Your Children Struggle A Bit

Written by  //  September 2, 2011  //  THOUGHTS  //  No comments

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November 8, 2009

It’s hard being a parent, but it’s also extremely rewarding. One of the greatest challenges is figuring out whether or not your child is ready to handle certain situations, or if you need to step in and prevent them from experiencing unnecessary upset or pain.

When children are very young, they aren’t able to grasp certain principles for themselves. Like, for example, a three-year-old has typically never seen anyone get hit by a car, nor are they capable of understanding the ramifications of such an incident. So, why should they fear it?? How are they to know any better?? As a parent, we necessarily act as surrogate-deciders for our children when they cannot judge a situation correctly due to lack of information or any other incapacity. So, if a three-year-old runs into the street… we run out and grab them, of course.

Over time, that relationship changes. The older a child gets, the more they understand, and that need for that surrogate-decider-relationship lessens and lessens. This is a hard line to walk as a parent, and many parents do horribly at it (usually out of no fault of their own): they continue to make decisions for their children long after their children are otherwise capable or they expect their children to be responsible for certain decisions well before they are ready.

For example, the other night Courtney was interfering with Eventide’s learning process, out of purely good, if not fully thought-through, intentions. There was a strawberry that Eventide was, at six-month-old, having a hard time reaching. It’s not that she couldn’t reach it, it’s just that it was going to be hard for her to do so. Courtney gave into the impulse to help, and reached out to move the strawberry closer to Eventide. I called out and indicated that Courtney should stop, explaining that Eventide’s situation was important for her growth. She either could continue to reach for the strawberry in the same way, change the way she was reaching for it, or give up altogether…. and it was important for us to let her make that choice, because even at six months, she is capable.

So, Eventide struggled for a bit with her right hand. After a while, she switched hands and reached for it with her left hand…. immediately she had the strawberry!!

And even just a short while later, when she had dropped the strawberry and was unable to reach it with her left hand, she immediately switched hands and was able to get it with her right hand!!!

In those short series of events, she had already learned that sometimes you’ve got to use a different hand!

If Courtney had just gone ahead and moved the strawberry closer to her, that lesson would have not taken place.

As parents, it’s often hard to sit and see your child struggle with the decisions that they are making… hard not to step in and try to make things better by interfering with their choices… but it’s imperative that we don’t in situations where they are perfectly capable of coming to the correct decision and dealing with the consequences of incorrect decisions. And, personally, I’d rather err on the side of interfering too little than interfering too much.

As in Finding Nemo: “… let us see what Squirt does flying solo…”

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