Respecting your child’s struggle

When you held your precious little baby in your hands for the first time, you vowed to do whatever you can to protect him. You’d give him the best you possibly can and would be willing to fight a pack of wolves just to protect your little one from harm or difficulties.

This parental instinct rose up in you to keep your little one safe. It’s a beautiful thing.

However, little humans are interesting. They’re still so dependent on us to take care of them, yet have this intense desire to be their own person, independent from us. And that is who they are – separate beings learning to navigate the world, under your care for a season yet learning to be independent so that when the time comes, they’re ready to launch off to be the person whom they were created to be.

And so in this tugging between both realities, lies what we can do as adults to care for children and at the same time give them space to wrestle with their own problems, by letting them learn from their own mistakes.

Respecting your child’s struggle is one way that you can encourage that independence in your child. It can look like allowing your child to feel all the difficult emotions without fixing it for them, giving them space to figure out how to put their shoes on without teaching them straight away, not helping them open that playdough cap when they’re intensely trying, or not swooping in straight away to act as referee when your children have a conflict with each other.

What does respecting your child’s struggle look like in real life?

Here are some steps you can take to respect the struggle:

1. Pause

Before swooping in to save your darling little one from any difficulty, practice pausing. Give yourself permission to not help straight away. That’s ok. You’re not a bad parent if you don’t help your child the instant they struggle.

2. Observe

Next, watch what your little one is doing. Is he intensely trying to figure out how to put on that right shoe? Is he struggling because the back part of the shoe is tucked under his foot? Notice what he’s doing and you’ll see the process of learning taking place. You’ll see how determined and focused he is. You’ll see him practicing his finger agility. You’ll see him problem solving.

3. Empathize

Now your child won’t always be determined and might get frustrated or upset in the process. That is so normal. Think of yourself when you’re trying to figure out something new. That uncomfortable feeling of frustration or even anger might come up in you. What more a little child who has to face so many things that are new to them.

What you can do at this time of upset emotions is to empathize with your child. Acknowledge that “It’s so tricky putting your shoes on. It’s so frustrating when you can’t get the back to come out from under your foot.”

Your child may not be successful at doing it the first try and may need to keep practicing. But giving your child space to try and figure out is what’s going to help them build confidence when they keep trying and keep getting better. It also teaches them that it’s ok to be in the process. It’s ok that they don’t get it right the first time.

4. Narrate what’s going on

Another way you can support your child while respecting their struggle is to narrate what’s going on objectively. For example, “It looks like the back of your shoes is tucked under your foot.” or “The strap seems really tricky to stick on.” Narrating helps your child become aware of the circumstances and gives him information to make decisions. We’re not telling him what to do here, just stating the facts and still allowing them to figure things out.

Letting your child go through the process of struggle is what will let him know that even though it feels uncomfortable and even though it’s hard, he can figure it out and he’s got his parents right there supporting him.

Your child’s got this. You’ve got got this.

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