As adults, we are pretty hard wired to make things as happy, easy and pleasant for our children as possible. We want to soothe those tears, help get that little arm unstuck, hold the little hand as they make their way down the steps. We have the best of intentions with all this help that we offer, but what if they were a little misplaced??
What if struggle, was the aim of the game much of the time? Imagine a small baby, rolled over from her back to her belly, with one arm a little stuck under her torso. She grunts, groans and wiggles...maybe even cries out a little. What does our instinct tell us? HELP! Fix it for her, get her comfortable again. Essentially, what we feel like we need to do, eliminates the struggle for her. But what would this achieve? Sure she is more comfortable now, for this moment. Perhaps next time though, when she feels that sense of discomfort and frustration begin to bubble, instead of looking within herself... she looks to you.
What if instead of donning the superhero cape and swooping in to save her, we waited a little? Noticed what she was doing, paid attention to those sounds and her movements and expressions. What if we moved a little closer, to be there in-case things got really hairy, but instead of offering ‘help’ we offered our presence through the struggle? We might notice her sense of determination. We might notice her arm coming a little more free with every wiggle and movement until voila! Free!!!! And not just free, but free and deeply satisfied at the tremendous sense of empowerment that comes from persevering through some struggle and coming out victorious. Free and powerful. With a very important learning experience stored away in that little bank account. Maybe that, is more helpful than anything!
Likewise when we are tempted to reach out an arm to support that wobbly little figure trying to make his way across the balance beam or the playground bridge. Something he may not have achieved this time round by working on it without ‘help’ and so again that temptation arrives to get the cape out and to swoop in. How about taking a step back here, instead of forward? We might notice that he is spending time just exploring how it feels to be up here. Perhaps using his feet as intelligent proprioceptive tools for learning, figuring out where the balance feels right or how to get his centre of gravity stable. When we come along and offer a well meaning arm, not only do we throw off those delicate beginnings of balance and gravity centering, but we essentially say “You cant do this without me” and that, is a message that sticks in young brains like superglue.
When we look back over our experiences in life, we realise that we didn’t learn the most from the things that were smooth sailing, easy and neatly polished. On the contrary! We learn and grow from risk, difficultly and struggle.
When we allow children to do the things that make the hair on the back of our neck stand up... We show trust. We grow courage. We promote perseverance. Risky play, difficult work and uninterrupted struggle are the foundations for SO many wonderful qualities and dispositions to be established.
To strive, work hard and move is innate in us, as is body/physical intelligence . Children who are free to explore their bodies individual capabilities from birth, take MEASURED risks.
Relax. Be close. Trust them and let them be free!
Helen Armstrong works alongside families and professionals through consultancy and professional development. She attended RIE® Foundations in 2011 with Maureen Perry and Polly Elam