elevating child care

The Powerful Gift of “I Did It!”

Hovering parents are taking a beating in the media these days. In an avalanche of recent articles, they are shamed, scolded and mocked for hyper-involvement in their children’s lives. Experts are coming out of the woodwork with smug superiority, issuing dire warnings about the anxious, insecure children hovering parents are raising. We’re getting an earful about the problems, but zilch in the way of solutions. 

The truth is, within every parent is a fearful hoverer. Some of us are just better at keeping it in check. And all the media humiliation in the world is not going to arrest the desire we all have to give our children every advantage in life and to protect them from struggle, frustration and failure.

Intellectually, we know our children must eventually learn to cope with life’s obstacles and disappointments. But we cannot simply withdraw our overabundance of loving concern; we need inspiration to re-channel it.  We need to get excited about giving our children the advantage they really need, the gift on the other side of the hovering coin: the joy of “I did it!”

“I did it, all by myself” is the glorious feeling of accomplishment children crave from the moment they are born. Even babies want to be doers, and they can be.  They can feel this success when they finally roll from their backs to their tummies after several days of twisting and straining, or when they are allowed to squirm across the floor to reach a toy rather than having it handed to them. They feel it when, after a struggle, they manage to get their own socks off, or when they finally stand after falling again and again.

Every time a child has an opportunity to own “I did it,” self-confidence grows. And a child’s capabilities build upon each other. The more he is trusted to accomplish for himself, the more emboldened he is to take on another challenge.

When parents learn to treasure a child’s independent accomplishments, they can become passionate about backing off rather than hovering.  They understand that a child’s unsolved problems and unfinished projects, frustrations and perceived failures are important to the learning process. Children are born ready and willing to persevere and don’t see struggles as negative unless parents teach them otherwise.

But when we push, teach, show, fix or even help a little too much, we interfere with a child’s chance to achieve. The second it takes us to solve a child’s problem or arrest his struggle can destroy another “I did it” possibility. Our challenge is to find the patience to wait and see if the child can do it himself first. If the child becomes too frustrated, we do the smallest thing possible to help.  Sometimes that means talking him through a solution, or moving a stuck object slightly so that a baby can then free it, or guiding an older child to brainstorm for essay ideas rather than giving him one. Often children just need us to be open to their capabilities and give them a little more time.

Matthew is a quiet, reserved, two year old who has been in my parent/toddler class for over a year. He stays close to his dad most of the time, playing quietly and observing. Last week the children were at the snack table, each choosing a bib for me to fasten around their neck.  When Matthew chose, he tentatively pulled it around to the back of his neck himself. I stopped myself from helping him. “Are you trying to put that on?” I asked. A moment later he succeeded, and I acknowledged with a smile. ”You did it by yourself.”  “Mommy, Matthew put the bib on by himself!” exclaimed Emerson, an exuberant boy with amazing language skills. Matthew and I locked eyes, and I will never forget the radiance I saw in him.

These brief moments of accomplishment are a child’s foundation for self-confidence, a love of learning, tenacity, imagination, independence, and a strong mind.  All bode well for successes in life – and are everything the hovering parent in each of us could hope for.

“When you teach a child something, you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.” –Jean Piaget

 

(Read more about this empowering approach in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting

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11 Responses to “The Powerful Gift of “I Did It!””

  1. avatar Barbara says:

    Excellent example of allowing a child to complete a task.

    “Every time a child has an opportunity to own “I did it,” self-confidence grows. And a child’s capabilities build upon each other. The more he is trusted to accomplish for himself, the more emboldened he is to take on another challenge.”

    Agreeing with you (again!), Janet. Some of wear the ‘helicopter Mom’ moniker proudly! In emails between other parents and me re: our college age children. Heh. Us HMs think that the media portray teens as adults, too much. Giving a teen over to full responsibility too early is dangerous. (You knew this was coming – I have a page on safety for teens – middle column under “For All Parents”.

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for your great comment and I’m going to check out your page on safety for teens…I’m excited to hear your thoughts!

  2. avatar Rachelle says:

    Beautifully said, Janet! I think about this all the time, and I’m enjoying the enormous amount of confidence my 2.5 year old displays. Hopefully we can continue to support this. And the Piaget quote is the perfect summary.

    • avatar janet says:

      Rachelle, thank you! Great to hear about your toddler’s self-confidence. My 3 children are very different, but they all share that self-confidence and are independent learners.

      If you begin your relationship with trust for your child’s abilities and respect for her struggles, you will definitely be able to continue giving her those gifts. In fact, your child will probably demand them. Our eldest (a H.S. senior) wouldn’t let us anywhere near her college applications…she insisted on doing everything herself!

  3. avatar Erika says:

    I loved this article but had a question. Here’s an example from a typical day: my 3-year-old stepdaughter will want me to help her put her shoes on. She’s perfectly capable of doing it herself, so I like to encourage her to try to do it on her own. However, my unwillingness to do it for her can often lead to upsets or simply sitting there and pouting. I often offer to sit with her while she puts her shoes on, or let her sit on my lap while she does it. I sometimes opt for “teamwork” if we’re in a rush – “I’ll hold the shoe open while you put it on.” But am I holding her back by helping? Whenever she does something herself she wasn’t sure she could do, I celebrate her success with her…but is it wrong to help at all?

    • avatar janet says:

      Good question, Erika. I would never say no to helping, but the way I help is mostly moral support and nurturing, which is often what children really want, especially if they actually know how to do whatever it is. Rather than encourage her to do it herself, I’d say, “Oh, I’d love to help”, but then be very subtle with your help, like it sounds like you are doing. It’s a bit of an art to give the most minimal amount of guidance. I ask questions. “What would you like me to do? Would holding this in place for you help?” Then I wouldn’t make a huge deal out of it when she gets it. “You did it!” is enough. This helps her to continue to be intrinsically motivated, rather than doing these things for applause.

      • Love this post on intrinsic vs extrinsic validation of “I did it” —especially having attended the Children’s Creativity Forum neuroscience convo Fri. w/Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg of fosteringresilience.com Spot on!

        Question I have is about encouraging similar confidence/conciousness w/teens, and when (or whether) parents should ever ‘step in’ involving conflict with any adult authority figure (e.g. teacher, coach, neighbor, scout troop, a parent of a friend, etc.)

        Some parents feel teens should figure out how to articulate their conundrum directly to adults sans ANY assistance/input/intervention since they’re ‘almost adults’ yadayada…

        Others feel teens shouldn’t totally ‘twist in the wind’ and could use adult back up (esp in navigating sticky situations where parental support is helpful, or high stakes tasks like collegiate apps/errors proofreading etc.)

        Thought I’d toss it into the convo since I’m now reading Ginsburg’s book on confidence/resilience and will no doubt post about it on Shaping Youth soon…so if you have any pullquotes or advice along those lines of hands-off vs hands-on “I did it all myself” thinking, (older tweens/teen adolescents in uncomfy scenarios, or deficits in core competencies, communication etc.) do ping me!

        Great post, Janet…thx

  4. avatar melissa says:

    I am a toddler teacher and I just wanted to say that this is wonderfully phrased.

  5. This is so true at all ages. Thanks for this.

  6. avatar Madeline says:

    I’ve been devouring your blog and doing everything in my power not to post every single one to my FB wall! I think that might annoy some people…

    Anyway, love this post. At the indoor playground today, I saw so many “I did it!” moments being taken away from children by their well-intentioned mothers, and it was hard to see. Meanwhile, my 16 month old is climbing all the structures, sliding down the slide by himself, building with the blocks, drinking from a real cup (albeit with a few spills)… While never looking to me for validation or applause, just having fun (and learning, of course!).

    Thanks for your wonderful posts and the work you do.

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