Rachel’s grandmother, fondly called Bubba, used to say, “Little children, little problems; big children, big problems.” And she was right. The lessons that need to be learned in life often present their first opportunities when our children are small. If the child takes advantage of the opportunity to learn the lesson then, so much the better for the child. If the child chooses not to learn the lesson at its first opportunity, life will continue to present the lesson intermittently for as long as necessary until the child, or, by then the adult, internalizes the value of the lesson. The only change that occurs over time is that the lesson becomes more difficult to deal with as one ages. The best time to learn the lesson is when one is young, when the problems presented by the lesson are small.
I’m telling you this because I think it’s important for you to know this to keep you from doing what parents do so well – rescue their children and thus interfere with the delivery of the lesson! We parents feel our children’s pain and we do what seems quite natural, at the time. We try to ease their pain by solving their problems for them. That’s called interfering and it doesn’t solve our children’s problems at all; rather, it solves our problem. It makes us feel better when we perceive that we are helping our children.
Life lessons are difficult and painful by definition. In order to learn the lesson we have two options. We can experience the lesson in our own skin and learn from it that way. Or, we can learn from another person who has learned the lesson. This is called learning the lesson by proxy. It’s easier and much less painful, but it’s seldom chosen, seldom recognized as the opportunity it is for pain-free learning!
Good examples of how children reject these opportunities is to think of how we lecture our children about something we want them to learn. Take doing homework, for example. We remind our children how important it is to do homework, and what values they will receive from doing their homework properly, turning it in on time, and so forth. Yet our children might prefer to play or watch TV or video games to doing the homework, thinking they can manage time well enough to get the homework done after the fun things. They might not think the homework has anything of value for them. They might hate doing it, might think it’s a waste of time, that it’s boring. Teachers might try to get them to do their homework to no avail. Even by receiving poor grades, punishments, or restrictions, some children still refuse to learn the lesson of the way to successfully complete homework
The longer the lesson is postponed, the more serious the effects are on the child. By learning to do homework in 4th grade, the child will be able to develop good work habits that will serve her well throughout middle school, high school, and college. The child who waits to learn the homework lesson until high school may have been placed in lesser academic classes and thus may have actually learned less in school than another equally intelligent child who mastered the study skills earlier.
So what can we do to enhance the timing of when our child learns important life lessons? First, remind ourselves not to solve our children’s problems. That means we don’t tell our children what to do or how to do it. Instead, we question and converse with our child in a friendly, caring, and open way. Our goal here is to cause our child to think for herself so that she can solve her own problems for herself.
Some things you might say are:
“Gee, it looks like you have a lot of homework to do. I wonder how you’re going to manage to do all that math?”
“Is there any way in which I could be of help to you?”
“I wonder why your teacher assigned this homework?”
“I remember when I was in 6th grade. I hated homework, too. It was always so hard for me to get it all done. Sometimes I had to work on it right after school and not even watch any TV. I hated that.”
“I remember how boring my homework was, but my mom made me do it.”
“Wow, I can see that you’re intent on getting your homework done tonight. That’s really admirable.”
“You look discouraged. Is it about your homework? Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’m available; let me know if you want my help.”
When we change our paradigm and understand that usually by helping (interfering) we are hurting our children, we can ask the right questions and make the right statements that will enable our children to grow their own muscles and learn their own life lessons. When was the last time your child learned how to ride a bicycle because you practiced riding yours?
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher