Compassion is one of our most positive human instincts, and we parents have an abundance of it for our kids. There’s almost nothing most of us wouldn’t do to ease our children’s pain, prevent struggles, and clear away confusion. We just want to make life work for them.
So, it was a big “Ah-ha” for me when I discovered through my training with child specialist Magda Gerber that our well-meaning support can often be less helpful than we intend it to be. In fact, it might even undermine our goal of raising self-confident, resilient, motivated kids.
For example, what might have been gained or lost by helping this two year old?
If you’re like me, you wanted to help him. You really did. (And he wasn’t even remotely frustrated!) But by doing so, he would have been deprived of the invaluable gift of discovery; the opportunity to practice tenacity, focus, persistence, patience; the chance to own his accomplishment and learn “I can do it!”
Our patience and restraint are a challenge, but they allow for golden opportunities. And we can still help by using these “helpful” hints:
1. Always, always, always respond to a request for help.
2. Be mindful that the way we respond matters. Observe and think before acting.
3. The definition of “help” is not “fix it”:
- Help is paying attention. When children ask our help, we might reply, “Sure, I’ll help! What are you doing?” More often than not, all the help children need is for us to be quietly available.
- Help is supporting our children when they express frustration by acknowledging, “Whew, that’s a tough one. You are working hard and making progress.”
- Help is calming ourselves rather than cluttering our child’s experience with our own worries, anxiety, and doubt.
- Help is maintaining a positive, accepting attitude toward struggles (after all, life is chock full of them!) so that they are normalized for our child.
- Help is losing our focus on results, which means taking our eye off the prize and remaining right where our child is in the process.
- Help is trusting our children to leave self-chosen tasks unfinished and perhaps return to them later or not, as they wish.
- Help is offering minimal suggestions and then, only if frustration builds, offering the slightest bit of assistance. Helping as minimally as possible allows children full ownership of their success, whether at that moment or at some later time.
Rather than give the message, “When you are in trouble, you scream and I rescue you,” we would like to convey the feeling, “I think you can handle it, but if not, I am here.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect
(Inspiring video and lovely photo by Karen Lewis Dalton!)
I share more about this respectful approach in