Just because a child is capable of doing something doesn’t mean they should always have to.
Watching children become more capable and independent typically stirs up mixed feelings inside of parents. While it’s certainly gratifying to observe them doing things for themselves, there may also be a hint of sadness watching them grow up in front of our eyes and no longer needing us in quite the same way they once did. Sigh, what to do with this conundrum.
Our response may go one of two ways: We might limit their ‘doing’ so we still feel needed, or we might push their ‘doing’ because we see their blossoming capability.
For some parents, glimpses of children’s emerging capabilities are intoxicating and they want to make sure their children never ever lose their new found skills. It’s as though the idea that once a child is capable of doing something for themselves they should always be made to do so. The feared alternative is they might otherwise forget how to do it, or heaven forbid, if we were to do it for them, they’d become spoiled and would never do anything again for themselves.
Neither are true.
A child who spontaneously begins to do things for themselves does so from a place of emergence. They WANT to do it. We first see this in toddlers who take on the phrase, “Me do it!” and repeatedly use it on us (often when we’re in a hurry and want to get things done for them in a fraction of the time it takes them to do it!). This is a sign of healthy development and we must make room for it as they grow. When we do, it opens up a third option for parents – to take the middle road.
A child who feels supported and who senses that parents are there to help them when they need it, is a child who will naturally move towards true independence (when they’re ready) because they feel taken care of, not because they’re made to feel they have no choice but to do it on their own.
When we read the needs of children, we get better at sensing what they need from us in each situation. There is no one right response, it all depends on the context and the child.
How are they feeling (tired, hungry, sick or full of beans and joy?)
What’s the location (at home or in a busy supermarket checkout?)
How much time is there ( do we have to be somewhere in 5 minutes, or is there no rush at all?)
How much patience do you have right now (are you worn out and likely to be overcome by your frustration and lose it on them?)
Every situation needs you to read it. Sometimes, withholding your help makes a situation go from bad to worse and you work against the connection you have with your child by holding your ground and trying to force independence. Other times, not jumping in to help and letting your child struggle a little and figure things out for themselves is just what’s needed for them to discover their ability, grow their perseverance and allow them to succeed.
On any given day you’ll be presented with many opportunities to nurture their true independence, just keep in mind, we’re all more curious and courageous when we trust that those who love us are there for us and have our backs (that’s the power of deep relationship).