Shortcutting Our Kids

Imagine you were on the way out to a party and you had to stop and pick up a dessert and stop to see a sick friend on the way.  Then your spouse says, “I know a short cut.  It will definitely get us there fast!”  “We’ll have to forget about the dessert, and your friend, but we’ll get to the party faster, that’s all that matters, right?”

What will you do when your eight year old pulls out his math fact homework and asks, “what is 9×2?”

What will you answer when your middle schooler asks, “when was the U.S. constitution ratified?”

You will offer assistance for them to find the answer on their own.  Offering suggestions on how a problem might be solved, or a book where an answer could be looked up.  You will not simply give them the answer because it is clear that the path to finding the answer is valuable.  Learning to solve problems and to do research are important skills in life.

Why is it then that parents don’t recognize this same lesson for their babies?  When a 4 month old is on his tummy and struggling to push his body over.  Or a six month old struggles to reach a rattle just out of reach.  Why do mothers just move the rattle closer?  Or just roll the baby over?  Don’t you see this is the same struggle?  Yes he fusses, he even cries.  These are his methods of communication.  He is telling you “this is hard work”.  And yes, there may be moments when he will need to be held and reassured, because the work may just become to difficult.  But this is the moment you should reassure him that you are there to support him, and when he is ready, you will put him back down and he can try again.

Because without this work, he will not be as strong, physically, emotionally, intellectually.  He is learning his own capabilities, trust in the world, the feeling of satisfaction one gets from reaching a goal.  These are not things one wants to be rescued from.  These are the moments that build who he will become.

And if you rescue him from learning at every turn when he is an infant, you set a standard that he will expect you to rescue him form every challenge.  So when he is eight and he asks you to solve his math homework, he might have feelings of abandonment and rejection that you have all of a sudden stopped rescuing him.  Why would you stop?  All of a sudden he must cope on his own.  He must start learning how to rely on himself at this moment, rather than coming to the moment with confidence and trust in himself that he is capable of figuring things out.

He has an amazing capacity to struggle and build self confidence.  This starts at the beginning of life.  When he is born, and for the first eight weeks, you answer every cry with a warm embrace and a kind voice.  Letting him know that he can trust you and the world he has been born into.  He is then ready to start to learn new skills, and failing is always a part of meaningful learning.  He will be stronger for the opportunity.

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