Before You Help Your Child…Wait
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.
I agree with this 100%. And it’s also true about other people not understanding. Luckily my husband and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to this, but we have experienced funny looks from other people when our children are left to work things out for themselves. We would obviously never put them in any real danger, I think it’s common sense. I wish everyone could relax a little, for their own sake too. The more you step back, the more relaxed you are as a parent. I think there is much more stress involved when you’re on pins and constantly jumping in and expecting the worst to happen. Great article! 🙂
Agree, I often want to tell people to just chill! LOL
My youngest son, age 2, is currently going through an “own” stage, ie “I can do it on my own”. I just try and allow extra time, for example, when getting dressed so he can try for himself. When that doesn’t work – socks are very tricky! – I try to find a compromise (I’ll get the socks over his toes then he pulls them up). It’s all about patience and reminding yourself not to immediately jump to their rescue as you say.
My 2 year old is the same right now! ‘Self!’
I don’t know how many times my toddlers were “rescued” by other parents while playing in some of our favorite local places. It still drives me insane to think about and its been a few years. It always made me feel like they felt sorry for my child because clearly their mother (me) didn’t care about them by letting them climb to the top of the slide by themselves! Thank you for sharing!
Frustrates me so much!
I love your comparison to mountain climbing!
So true! My now 4 year old started to get incredibly cross when she was approaching 2 whenever we would try to help her. It took us a while to figure it out, but as soon as we started telling her ‘let me know if you’d like any help’, instead of barging in and pre-empting any struggles there was a profound change. She was calmer and felt in control, and we felt calmer knowing she would let us know if she was having trouble. And, yes, we did get odd looks in the playground for not helping at every step, and some unwanted rescuing by strangers as well! I hope this paves the way for her feeling that she can come to us whenever she needs to for the rest of her/our lives.
It certainly will, I’m sure of it!
Thank you! Really a useful article
Thanks for all your inspiring thoughts and writings !
I so appreciate them ( I bet my children do too (:)
You have such awesome insight and in depth ways of looking at it ALL !
We live in the country, and my children have always loved climbing the trees in our woods. Many times one of them would climb much higher than I would have liked and would give me a heart attack. When my fourth child came along, she would see her brothers in the trees and want my help. My response was, “When you can climb it, you can climb it.” She would get so frustrated with me, but I wouldn’t yield. She is 7 now and climb anything and is as fearless as the others.