Tonight I Let Her Struggle

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Tonight I Let Her StruggleTonight I was the very mean mom who wouldn’t help her daughter.  Tonight I let my little girl struggle and get a little frustrated, and I refused to help her or to do for her the task she set out to do.  And we both lived through it.

You see, she decided she wanted to change out her shoelaces for these funky Atlanta Hawks laces she got when we visited the Ronald McDonald House a few weeks back.  She pulled out a pair of sneakers, plopped herself down on the den rug, and sat there, staring at her shoes.

She looked up at me for …approval? Guidance?  Or both.

I told her this was a task she needed to try to do on her own.  I told her upfront I would NOT put those laces in myself, that -at 8 years old- she could do it.  I further told her she may need to keep trying until she figured it out.

She looked at me like a helpless puppy, but I stayed over on the couch, folding clothes, and simply offering a watchful eye, and an ear for conversation.

She pulled the laces out of one shoe, picked up the new pair, and started to study the laces in the other shoe.  She started to thread the laces in to the middle, and -carefully observing the already-laced-shoe- set forth to lace it up.  She did so, and rather quickly.  I told her something like “hey, you did that quickly!  Did you know you could lace so quickly?!”

She then tried her shoe on and realized the laces were way too tight.

That’s when things started to unravel. She asked if I could help her.  I told her she could figure out what to do.  She got a little teary-eyed and frustrated.  I glanced at the clock and realized after a long day, it was bedtime, and she was getting tired.

So I offered her a suggestion on how to loosen the laces, but I didn’t do it for her.  She had to go through the process three times before she got the first shoe properly laced.  There was screaming.  There were tears.  There was foot stomping.  There was frustration.

But there was also success.  There was therefore also pride afterwards in knowing SHE did it herself.

….and then she realized she needed to do the same thing all over again with the other shoe.  And the tears and frustration and anxiety started all over again.

But this time, I simply reminded her, she’s already done this.  She’s already laced up a shoe, so she  can do this one too.

Yes, I’m the mean mom who let her cry.  I let her throw the shoe down in frustration.  I’m the mean mom who gently made her retrieve the shoe and finish the job.  I’m the mean mom who gave her the gift of doing it for herself, of pride in and confidence in knowing she could do the job.

Tonight I Let Her Struggle

I firmly believe in letting kids struggle. I firmly believe in letting kids problem solve.  I firmly believe in letting kids learn through their mistakes, so they can gain a stronger sense of what they need to do in order to be successful.  I also firmly in letting kids see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow.

How much are you willing to let your kids struggle?  I’m not suggesting you never intervene and help your kids.  I’m simply suggesting you sit back and allow your kids the opportunity to practice learning new skills on their own.  By allowing her to struggle through learning to lace her shoes, she gained the experience, as well as the confidence in knowing she can do this task.  The more tasks she knows she can tackle on her own, the more independent she can be.  Also, it’s an exercise in problem-solving skills – just like any skill, you’ve got to practice problem-solving skills.

As a preschool teacher, I’ve many times had the opportunity to observe kids overcome their frustration and conquer a task.  Particularly as a mother, it is within our nature to want to step in and help a child we see struggling.  Yet, sometimes, it’s our very nature we need to restrain in order to help our kids long-term.

So, after an evening of tears, grunts of frustration, loudly spoken words, and eventually conquering a task she didn’t know she could handle, I gave my daughter the gift of experience, confidence, and helped her build upon her foundation of problem-solving.  Hopefully she will squirm some more in the learning process as she gets older, and continue to gain confidence in knowing she can handle the world around her.

And for now, she has newly-laced purple sneakers as a token of her struggle, and newly-found skills.

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