Problem Solved: How a Four-Year-Old's Ingenuity Pays OffShawn Burns
She asked for my help, but I don’t like to just do things for my kids: I want them to try something first.
This is mostly laziness, but I like to think it’s partly a parenting choice. If they try, and fail, they learn a limit, and my job can be to make sure they’ve learned exactly the lesson to learn from the failure (instead of blowing the lesson out of proportion). If they try, and succeed, they learn that their boundaries weren’t where they thought they were. But if they don’t try, and I just do it, the most they can learn is how to do it, not that they can.
I don’t think it’s valueless to just show them how, but I do think (laziness rearing its head again) that they won’t have to ask me the same thing over and over and over again if they do it themselves. There’s probably science behind this, but I don’t know it.
Asha and Joanne, two other Babble Voices bloggers, have been talking about challenging kids, helping them learn through failure. They’re more goal-directed than I am: I kind of just don’t want to get off the couch, and the quicker my kids can learn how to do things themselves, the less I’ll have to move.
This morning I moved off the couch because my daughter wanted to solve a problem she had. Because she knows me, she knows to not just beg for help the first time around. But she had been trying to hold the umbrella while zipping it into the bag attached to her scooter’s handlebars and she just couldn’t do it. She asked for my help, not to do something for her, but because I have two hands that weren’t doing anything useful at the moment and could I maybe come out to the back yard and be useful? Hmm? Dad?
So I went out, and held the umbrella so that the base was in the handlebar bag, knowing it wasn’t going to stay there even if the bag was zipped up as tightly as possible, but not saying anything because my daughter had to see it first; she might acknowledge that I knew what I was talking about, and defer to me, but she wouldn’t really believe it unless she did it herself. A couple of minutes later, and some failed attempts later, I explained why the umbrella was falling over, and that it either needed to be secured at the top and bottom somehow, or extremely tightly at the bottom to prevent wiggling.
“I know, dad! I have a great idea!” she exclaimed, then ran off into the house. She returned with a roll of packing tape and a bright expression on her face.
“Oh, honey, I don’t think that’s going to work,” I said, ignoring my own previous advice to myself to let her try, and fail, and see rather than just telling her.
“Yes it will dad, we just have to do it so so so so so so tight. Here, can you help me with this? I’ll hold the umbrella where it needs to go, but you do the tape part.”
And that’s how, despite my reservations, I found myself holding a roll of packing tape as my daughter instructed me to wind it around and around the base of the umbrella and the handlebars of the scooter, knowing the whole time that it was never going to hold up. It was going to fall over immediately. It was…
All of a sudden, I was the one who needed to learn something by trying it. My daughter had known all along, somehow, that this idea was going to work. I had an artificial limit in my head, and it needed to be broken down. Only her persistence, her insistence that I try, “Just try so hard, dad!” kept me from shrugging and going back to the couch.
The student, folks, just became the master.
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