On letting kids try things themselves

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I can climb these by myself.

When I first became a mother, I was so afraid that I was going to screw up. I am a perfectionist and I hate making mistakes. I knew logically that I would make mistakes in parenting, but I also knew that I may be able to avoid some if I tried to find tools and resources that could help me with parenting. I never had set out ahead of time to be an attachment parent, to homeschool let alone unschool, or to parent without punishment. Truthfully, I got in over my head with all the research I did, was overwhelmed with information, and much of it I had to read again later when it applied. I was reading Alfie Kohn when she was 6 months old, and that is when I first learned about parenting without punishment or rewards. I loved it. From there I read many more peacefully parenting books, and one led to another until I decided all these strategies I wanted try in my parenting. Many of them actually helped me, some created more stress and they were not worth it for us long term.

One thing I read about, and I do not even remember where I originally read about it, was letting children try to do things for themselves. Letting them do something, even if it was difficult, let them make mistakes, let them takes risks. Helping them explore things they were curious about even if it was unconventional. Sometimes they would ask for help, sometimes they would mess up, sometimes they would fall; but sometimes they would do something difficult all on their own, figure out a problem, or learn a new skill and feel great about it. This made so much sense to me. It was not always easy to avoid stepping in, but logically, I knew that so much learning came from the process more than the end result.

This could look like many different things at different stages of development. It might be, not stopping a wobbly tower from falling over as a baby builds it again and again until they are learning about balance. It could mean letting your small toddler climb up the steps at the playground, while you just stood behind as a spotter. It could mean letting them practice their balance walking across a wall. My daughter fell sometimes, but in the process she learned how to fall without getting hurt, and overall fell much less than others. Many people commented on how strange it looked to see such a small toddler climbing, jumping, and running through obstacles. She always amazed me with brave attitude, yet quick ability to calculate a situations risks and how to best avoid them. She learned when to ask for help. She also learned that if I stepped in and said that something was not safe then it really was not safe since I tried not to do that often. If she really wanted to try something that wasn’t okay on her own, than I found a way to do it with her when I could.

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She went through a stage as a toddler where she was obsessed with plugs and wall sockets. She quickly figured out how to remove the safety plugs. I tried redirecting, I tried blocking, I tried just saying no. But none of that helped. So I decided to try something else. Whenever she expressed interests in in, I sat next to her and we talked about the plug, what they do, how they work (in toddler terms). I helped her plug and unplug things in safely. She would spend anywhere from 5-20 minutes each time. At first this happened a few times a day. It was a little annoying if I am being honest, but I stuck with it. She stopped going after them by herself but would instead get my attention and point to the plug or say her word for plug. After a couple of times she realized that I would explore it with her, so if she asked and I could not do it right away I would say “Yes, as soon as I finish… rinsing these dishes, or making this snack…” and she would almost always wait for me. Then she started being less and less curious about the plugs until she forgot about them completely. Danger gone, much learned. It was not a hands off solution, it was not a solution that was quick. It required active time and effort on my part. But to me it was worth it. I handled many other things the same way, including when my son learned how to open the refrigerator.

This approach looks different over times as my kids age. Recently, my 5-year-old is starting to learn how to safely use a knife as she helps more in the kitchen. I love how kids are naturally curious, naturally want to explore and learn, and I want to foster that however possible. Yes, it takes time and energy. Yes, it means sometimes other things go undone while they are learning something new. No, it is not always easy and involves biting my own tongue and not giving the solutions sometimes. But the results I see make it worth it.

 

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