Life is brimming with struggle; childhood is no exception, though many adults make choices that indicate it should be an exception.
Parents can choose to to let struggle happen, or they can squelch it. Adults can sometimes make loving decisions that prevent challenges by doing things for their children, or absentmindedly decide to have them avoid struggle altogether.
In infancy and toddlerhood, these struggles are largely physical and emotional in nature. It’s not uncommon to prevent struggle for infants by buying into ideas, products, and equipment which ease our children’s lives. Bouncers that keep children in inclined positions probably do prevent infants from being unhappy if they can not see around them, but it comes at a cost.
Opportunities to move and learn how to move so that infants can see things around them at will are replaced with an easier way out. Though it may seem like a convenience in the moment, it is these types of choices that can evolve into a trend of parenting decisions unless we take note. Do give our children our trust and allow them the chance to struggle or do we prevent struggle and save that learning moment for another day?
Children are drawn to struggles. Regardless of whether we prevent them or not, children continually challenge themselves with new and more challenging tasks. They are intrinsically motivated to grapple with challenges without assistance, or even expectation of accomplishment. They engage in struggle for the sake of the engagement itself.
I recall a mobile infant learning to climb onto a ride-on toy, and she wobbled as she tried to mount it. As the other teachers and I stood by, ready to offer our support to the child, she managed to get onto the equipment without assistance. Excited that she had made it, we anticipated how glorious this highly anticipated bike ride would be, only to see her climb off immediately. Once down, she set right out to trying to climb up again. The ride, to her, was sitting on the bike – she welcomed the struggle.
Greysen can not zip up her sweater yet, but she constantly attempts to zip it up on her own without what many would consider success. This is irrelevant to her. Unlike adults, she feels no shame, no discouragement, or even embarrassment from being unable to zip it.
In struggling, she is learning things that I can not teach her. She is learning how to coordinate her thoughts and tasks. She is experimenting with different ways to hold each piece in her hand, and how to get her hands to work together to make it all come together. Within that struggle, the learning is enough.
Here are some things I consider when I feel the urge to step in and do something for my daughters instead of letting them work through a challenge:
• I consider my own feelings. How does seeing my child struggle make me feel?
• I determine whether my need to step in is based on fear or real threat. Is my child is real danger?
• I consider my need to help based on time. Most often, my strongest urge to solve a problem for my daughters is when I feel that I’m up against the clock. Struggling takes time – time that I sometimes perceive I don’t have.
In life, we can not solve every problem or avoid every struggle. By fostering tenacity, we are also trusting that children can find their own solutions, even if they are not the ones we as adults might think are the best ones. We can help our children learn to persist through their problems as they cross their paths by letting them wrestle with those tasks. Based on our knowledge of who the child is and our relationship with her, we can determine under what circumstances children can work things out for themselves and when they may need us to help out. Children have a right to struggle, a right to come to solutions on their own, a right to try out an idea that may not work, and the right to try it out anyway. Ultimately, honoring a child’s right to struggle sets the stage for a genuine sense of accomplishment. How can we stand in the way of that?