“Here, let me help you.”
These words, while innocent enough, can interfere a great deal in a child’s development. It’s natural for us as adults to want to interfere and offer assistance when a child is struggling to carry a heavy, full water pitcher, or can’t put on their coat and shoes by themselves at the end of the day. It’s just what we do as parents and educators; to protect our precious little ones whenever they’re struggling, hurt, or going through a hardship. We need to, however, ask ourselves this question, am I really helping them?
I can share a personal example (among many), of my son and his struggle with independence.
While dressing himself this morning, and putting on his shoes, I reached over, “Here, just let me help you.” At the time, I did not realize the harm my interfering had caused. I did not see the disappointment in his eyes as I took his shoe and hurried to put it on his foot.
Our mornings are generally rushed, eating a quick breakfast, grooming, dressing, feeding/walking the dog, getting bottles/cloth diapers ready for sister, etcetera, etcetera…there’s very little time allotted for my son to put each article of clothing on his body by himself.
I replenish a “changing basket” in my son’s room every night, complete with a few pairs of pants, shirts, socks and underwear so that he can choose what to wear for himself in the morning. I’ll give him between 20-30 minutes to dress himself, which usually ends in me pulling his shirt over his head, or putting on his shoes because, I’m sorry my dear, but we just don’t have all day! I’ve recently discovered that because of this, he is now dependent upon me to finish getting dressed. He will follow me around the house with his shoes, waiting for me to put them on his little feet. If I can’t help him immediately, he will resort to crying or try to get my attention in a negative way. It’s as if I’ve set such high expectations for him to put his shoes on, and why not, I’ve made it clear that he needs an adult’s help to do so, through my impatient actions. So the way I see it, I haven’t really helped him during his morning routine. Instead, I’ve damaged his independence, and made him more reliable on me. Granted, he is 2.5 years, and may need help with some of his day to day tasks, but I can confidently say that dressing himself is a task that he can do all by himself.
Dr. Maria Montessori said, “The task of the child is the formation of man”. In the earliest years, the child is forming the kind of person they’ll be for the rest of their life. They will refine fine and gross motor skills, learn how to cope with different emotions, experience social interactions, conflict resolution, and so forth, all with a strong emphasis on independence. They can achieve this independence by working in an environment, well-equipped with tools they can use, free from adult interaction. Montessori guides strive to be “invisible”, letting the materials teach and manipulate their student’s young mind. Through works in “practical life” (care of environment, care of self, care of others, etc.), the child learns to control his movements, they develope concentration, self-discipline, control of error, scope of sequence, and so many other qualities that can further strengthen their independence.
Self discipline is key to a child’s independence. Children who have developed internal self-discipline, have the freedom to enjoy independence. We need to allow the child to develop self-discipline on their own terms; they need that internal struggle in order to grow independently. Self discipline comes about through a child’s concentration, and their ability to successfully complete a challenging task.
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
We all love our children and want to nurture them, overload them with love and affection, and help them at all times. By doing too much for our children, we take away their ability to learn independently. By following your child’s natural rhythm of learning, and allowing them to experience obstacles for themselves, they will become more intelligent, better-coordinated, disciplined, self-sufficient young children, well equipped with the knowledge to solve problems on their own. Do not feel guilty to let them make mistakes, and learn through “control of error”.