When Helping is not a Good Idea

Here’s a story that was told to me recently: in some store for small children, there’s a toddler trying to pull out a chair at a small table so as to be able to use something that’s on the table.  The toddler is struggling to pull the chair out… it’s a lot of work… finally the chair budges just a little as one side moves out.  The toddler comes around to that open side and tries to stuff his body into the space and sit but doesn’t quite fit.  He goes back to trying to pull it out the rest of the way.  At this point his loving mom comes along, sees his struggle and pulls the chair out and sits him down so that he can do what he wants at the table.  Nice mom, right? Well, a little misguide, actually.

Here was a small child learning exactly what he needs to learn: perseverance towards a goal, effort, personal engagement.  The value here was in the struggle, not the “reward” or success at the end.  This loving mother will string together a series of such “signs of love” through the child’s early years, all of which will lead to a less capable child, a child with less self-esteem than he otherwise would have had, a child who has NOT been able to learn that work is part of life, that it’s good, that effort will lead to good things, that success can be yours, that you are your own master, that you can overcome the challenges that life throws at you, that…. indeed, many things.

It’s like when a baby is crawling after the ball on the floor, only to have it brought to her by a loving adult… missing the fact that it’s the effort that matters. It’s not the goal that holds value, it’s the struggle, the skinned knees…. let’s get out of the way and allow learning to take place… empower children ….. helping is “doing for”  and “doing for” robs children.  It robs them of the opportunity to BECOME.  Isn’t that what growth is… becoming? What do we want children to become?

We all claim to want them to become capable people… “the best version of themselves possible”.  The problem is that we often don’t recognize that some things we do lead away from this lofty goal. Let’s find out what growth requires.  Let’s identify what the nature of child development is and serve that.

The “teachable moments” appear all day long.  If we can deal with them in the best way we’ll have children who are learning all the time and who value themselves in the process.

Now that’s an education worth fighting for.