Google+ Authentic Parenting: Is it OK to Let Children Struggle?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Is it OK to Let Children Struggle?

Do you rescue your kids? Say, if they have forgotten their lunch at home, or a toy at a friend’s house, will you turn around and go get it? What about when they are struggling with a new skill or with a problem, do you swoop in and fix it? Is it OK to Let Children Struggle?

The other morning we were headed to school, I heard a huge gasp and “I forgot my folder and my watch!” I could have gone back to the house, but I didn't do it. I wanted to. I wanted so badly to just turn left instead of right and head right back home to make it all better. I wanted to swoop in for the rescue, and yet, I didn’t. I didn’t because I try to remember not to rescue all the time, actually I try not to rescue unless there is imminent danger or potentially disastrous consequences.

In this case, the forgotten watch and the folder were unfortunate, frustrating and certainly upsetting, but not leading to any disasters so no rescue was needed. Sure, in the first week of school leaving a folder at home was not so great, If I didn’t know better, I could see the potential for the teacher to think that we are an irresponsible bunch, or that my son could feel potentially ashamed, and yet, I knew I could trust his teacher and knew she would not actually shame him at all. (She didn’t.) So I didn't turn around. Was I being a mean, tough, terrible mama? Or a follow through - give the kid some credit to figure this out mama? 

The thing is, I don’t intend to be a mean mama, but I do want my son to know he is responsible for remembering his own things for school. He has a schedule on the wall and a shelf that is for his school items, right by the shoes and coats, we set that up together, we have talked about it and we practiced. The excitement, the “new” factor in all of this simply distracted him, that one morning. My son was not happy about this…for about 30 seconds. Then he quickly thought of a solution.
“Mom, when you come to pick me up at lunch time, could you bring the folder with you? That way if I have any papers, I can put it in the folder then. It’s on the shelf, you know, where I was supposed to have gotten it from. Oh, please and thank you, thank you, thank you.! ”

There were no giant tears, no meltdown, just the realization of the mistake and thinking of solutions. I didn’t have to rescue him after all, because he was capable of doing it himself. And the next morning…the natural consequences were the best teacher; he remembered his folder, and his watch and his snack and everything else he needed to take to school.

Ok, so that works well for the school aged child, what about the little ones? This past week someone told me it was really mean of me to let my children struggle. My daughter who is 27 months was struggling to get her leggings on herself, I stayed by her but did not help. She was grunting, talking to the pants, “oh my foot stuck..sooo stuck…AH! now not stuck anymore..other foot stuck…awhh” Then I watched as this person advanced tried to help. “Here, I will do it FOR you”… Surprise, the person was met with one confident and fierce “I DO IT MYSELF!” and my daughter, happily continued her struggle... by choice! When she was finished with those leggings, she said "I did it! So tricky! I did it!" and walked away. Those words, that smile, that confidence, that is why I let her struggle. Because it's not a struggle that is full of suffering or sadness, it's a struggle that is full of learning - real, raw, amazing learning!

Frustration, struggles, making mistakes, those are all such wonderful learning opportunities. Of course, being responsive, empathetic, helpful is all really important too – here we are trying to strike a balance, find the right amount of one and the other…it’s not easy, like anything with parenting, it’s never quite simple or easy but yes, I am alright letting my children struggle, try, fail and try again. We welcome mistakes here, we encourage independence with realistic expectations, we support the falls but not necessarily by rescuing but rather by providing the space in which the kids can find, make & create solutions. Do I inadvertently swoop in from time to time? I’m sure I do J
What about you? Are you letting your children struggle?
Peace & Be Well,

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  1. I do let my child struggle when I remember to. My oldest is nearly 4, he is sufficient in dressing himself, most of the way. Now, I will try and let him get on with it until HE asks for help. Example, he was getting on a polo shirt, and doing the buttons. They're relatively new to him, and he stood there, in absolute silence, positively radiating concentration. He did the bottom two, taking a long time with each. The top one he asked for help - the hole went the other way. Each time we let our kids do it themselves, we are aiding their independance, as long as they are happy to do it themselves, let them be! :)

  2. Aww those polo shirt buttons are so tricky, my four year old asks for help with that a lot too :) The newest trend I see here is the 6 yr old offering help to the 4 yr old with those - love it! Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  3. It's true! And it's hard to know when to let them struggle and when to jump in to help. But ultimately I think using small opportunities to struggle a little on their own allows kids to find their own way out of the everyday obstacle they'll face years later. Even though it's uneasy sitting with that feeling, wishing you could just step in and save them, it gives them a chance to say to themselves, "The adults around trust me enough to do this. Maybe, I can do it on my own."


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