Posts Tagged ‘helping your child’

Don’t Help Your Kids–The Best Parenting Advice I Ever Learned

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Don't Help Your Kids--The Best Parenting Advice I Ever LearnedIt sounds counterintuitive: of course we help our kids. From the day they are born, we help them. We feed. We burp. We wipe. We change. We rock. We soothe. We do everything for them, and happily so.

I learned through the course of three babies learning to walk to shush the gasps and the “my BAYBEEE”s I’m tempted to utter when my children fall or get hurt. I struggle to remember to stop and be the voice of calm, the fixer of boo-boos and not the encourager of drama. But just when I got pretty good at that, I was presented with another challenge: I got pregnant with my third child.

Having my “hands full,” as people love to dub me, would mean two kids. Three is a whole other world. With my third child in my arms nursing around the clock, not only could I not rush in and save my kids from every fall, bump and scrape even if I wanted to, sometimes I simply couldn’t help. When a toy was being stubborn. When their tiny fingers couldn’t manipulate something important. When they just wanted someone else to do it for them. I had to learn a new role. Instead of being their aide, I became their cheerleader.

You know what happened? They figured out things without my help. Later I would learn that science backed up my experience. A TED talk by Sugata Mitra, an education researcher, details how he put computer consoles in the poorest, most rural areas of India, and then left without showing the children there how to use them.

Within hours, children with no formal education mastered it. They taught themselves English. They caught up with students in expensive prep schools in the richest parts of India, simply by having someone watch them, saying, “Wow! How did you do that? That’s amazing. I couldn’t have done that when I was your age.” That’s all it took to get the rural, uneducated children achieving on the same level as children with every opportunity and advantage in life.

In another early childhood study at MIT, researchers showed one group of kids a toy and fully demonstrated how it worked, while another group only got a tease. Which group played with the toy longer? The ones who got to figure things out on their own.

It makes sense. Children have an amazing capacity to learn and figure things out, and when they want something, they don’t give up. Kids are always trying to assert themselves, whether it’s wanting to wear something different than you picked out or eat something different than you made. By resisting the urge to do for them and channeling that drive and tenacity into cheering them on as they do things for themselves, they feel empowered, fulfilled and successful. We still as parents have a role in that, but a much smaller role, and a more fulfilling one.

So now, when my child wants me to figure out a toy, help with a puzzle, dress a doll, or build a tower, I smile and feign ignorance, even when I’m not feeding or holding the baby, who isn’t such a baby these days.

“I don’t know how to do that,” I say. “Why don’t you figure it out?”

It’s so gratifying to watch her do just that.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three girls who lives and writes in Queensbury, New York.