Here’s the thing: as parents we all want to make our kids’ lives easier and not have to see them struggle. At some point we do have to take a step back and let them try. They may not succeed the first time or even the second or thirteenth time, but I think what is important is to help children develop Executive Function skills such as problem solving strategies and to teach children to advocate for themselves.
While doing this we may need to be helping them learn how to regulate their emotions too. As most of us know, it can be mega frustrating when things do not go right, especially when we are doing something difficult or new.
Here is a recent scenario from my dining room to (possibly) yours: One afternoon I was having lunch with a fellow Executive Function coach and my 2.5 year old daughter Maddy. We were chatting while we ate and Maddy was happily playing and singing by herself in an adjoining room. All of a sudden she came barreling into the room on her trike (as only a two and half year old can do) but she couldn’t get through because there was a chair in the way. She continued to ride her trike into the chair, jamming it more tightly into the small space, and making it even more impossible for her to fit through. I stopped myself from getting up immediately and saving her (and our furniture).
I acknowledged Maddy’s desire to come into the room on her trike. I then reminded her that she should stop and think about what she could do about this. I calmly gave her 3 options:
Option 1. She could keep banging into the furniture (and probably get more frustrated).
Option 2. She could get off her trike and move the obstacles (I informed her that she would need to stop doing her preferred task momentarily), or
Option 3. She could ask me for help (but then she would not get to do it by herself).
She eventually decided to get off the trike and move the chair and then got back on her trike to ride it into the room. Although I will say, in true 2 year old fashion, she had to attempt that 3 times as she did not move the chair far enough the first 2 times. Once she was in the room though, she loudly congratulated herself with a self-initiated round of applause; and I took that to mean she was rather proud of herself!
You may be thinking, “oh but my kids are so different from this and way older compared to this kid and the effects of not helping them succeed are so much greater”…but are they? Stop and think about it.
What if you could teach them Executive Functioning strategies (or provide support for them to have an Executive Function coach) that would help them to be able to solve their own problems and when to know and how ask for help, rather than simply solving their problems for them? I imagine that your answer might be something like “Yes, I want to do that. But how? And without a lot of collateral damage, please.”
The answer is you can. The first thing you have to do is to stop and think before you react. We live in such a fast paced world, where we want immediate results and often are easily frustrated if we don’t get results right away. But sometimes we need to slow our supermom instincts down and to stop and think before we act for them. Slowing down and taking a step back gives our children an opportunity to be able to ask for help (self advocacy) if they are in a bind or they are feeling utterly stuck. Developing self advocacy skills is an important step for a child in becoming independent and understanding when you can handle a problem and when you need to ask for help.
State the problem
Understand the options
Pick a solution
Execute the solution
As parents we have choices: we can jump in, make things easy and solve things for our kids or we can gently guide and help them learn how to problem solve, regulate their emotions and, when needed, advocate for themselves, and then they can feel good about developing Executive Function skills (though they might not even know that’s what they have developed)! And as a bonus, we get to feel good knowing we supported them to be more independent and well…super!
The bottom line: don’t rush in to rescue them. I get it; the natural instinct is to move the chair for them. But, fight the urge and realize it is not always about swooping in to save them but it is often about being there to support them.
photo credit: Tjook via flickr
Posted by Rachel Krompinger on 02:54 PM
Rachel Krompinger is the COO of Beyond BookSmart and is based in our Boston branch.