If there was one thing I would love for everyone to know about babies, toddlers, and children it is just how capable they are. They can often do so much more than we think. A lot of the time they’re just not given the chance. Sometimes we’re rushing though our busy lives without time to stop and give them the opportunity. Maybe we worry that they’ll hurt themselves so we jump in and help them without invitation.
The thing is, if you’re always predicting the outcome, you never leave space for them to surprise you. When do they get to learn to climb the ladder at the playground if you’re always jumping in and lifting them to the top because you know they are too little to do it themselves? How will you know when the day comes that they can do it all on their own?
Sometimes I get some funny looks when out in public with my girls. Evidently it’s not the norm to allow a child to struggle, or to feel frustration when you could easily help. But I think knowing when to help and when not to is so important. In life there are struggles, but there is also big pride and accomplishment when you make it through all by yourself. I want them to feel that. Frustration is also going to happen a lot and it is an important emotion to learn how to deal with. So wait, just wait.
Wait for an invitation. Wait until your help is asked for. Sometimes it’s hard to watch them struggle. You can feel the frustration they are feeling. But if you wait you might also see how persistent they are, how they can problem solve, and how they weren’t looking to you for assistance anyway. Wait to be asked. Learning to ask for help is something they can’t get too much practice at. How many adults do you know that still don’t know how to ask for help when they need it? Or feel guilty about it if they do?
When your toddler goes to climb the ladder at the playground, wait. Maybe their goal isn’t to get to the top anyway? Maybe they just want to explore the ladder. If we swoop in and lift them to the top maybe that teaches them that the important part is the end result instead of what you learnt along the way. Imagine if you were climbing a mountain and just before you got to the top you were magically transported up there. What a disappointment. Most toddlers would be perfectly happy playing down the bottom until they have mastered the ladder and can own that sense of achievement. Let them explore things at their level, show them that is just as valuable.
When your baby is reaching for a toy and you just know she can’t get it, wait. Let her try and work it out. Let her discover her own capabilities.
When your child goes to make their own breakfast, wait. Don’t predict what will go wrong and what they can’t do.
Just wait! Observe. Show them you trust them, show them you think they’re capable. Wait for an invitation to help. And when they do ask for your help, don’t jump in and take over, assuming what they want you to do. Ask ‘how can I help?’ and do only what is requested. Maybe they just need a little bit of assistance so they can do it themselves.
Let them own that sense of accomplishment, it’s so beautiful to witness.