Thursday, January 24, 2013

Please Don't Help My Kids

Photo Credit: cryptic_star (Creative Commons)
This pointed and articulate plea from one parent to her fellow parents at the playground is worth the read:

They're not here to be at the top of the ladder; they are here to learn to climb. If they can't do it on their own, they will survive the disappointment. What's more, they will have a goal and the incentive to work to achieve it. 
In the meantime, they can use the stairs. I want them to tire of their own limitations and decide to push past them and put in the effort to make that happen without any help from me. 
It is not my job — and it is certainly not yours — to prevent my children from feeling frustration, fear, or discomfort. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that those things are not the end of the world, and can be overcome or used to their advantage. 
If they get stuck, it is not my job to save them immediately. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn to calm themselves, assess their situation, and try to problem solve their own way out of it. 
It is not my job to keep them from falling. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that falling is possible but worth the risk, and that they can, in fact, get up again.
This quote near the end of the post caught my attention: "Because, as they grow up, the ladders will only get taller, and scarier, and much more difficult to climb. And I don't know about you, but I'd rather help them learn the skills they'll need to navigate them now, while a misstep means a bumped head or scraped knee that can be healed with a kiss..."

I remember a youth ministry prof in college making the comment (and I'm paraphrasing): let your students fail when the consequences are small so they don't make the same mistakes when the consequences are large. He was saying that sheltering young people from their own mistakes and failures could potentially stunt a student's growth. Instead, give them the space and time to help them navigate, learn, and recover from those failures. Of course, we are also to protect children and students from traumatic experiences and extreme suffering. But doing your teenager's homework or cleaning their room or filling out their job applications isn't doing them any favors. As a teacher, giving students an "A" grade for a "C" effort isn't helping them at all, particularly when they will encounter teachers later in life who won't put up with their lackadaisical work. This isn't about being hard-nosed or lacking in empathy; it is giving the grace of acceptance and love and withness even in the midst of failure.

One of my ministry values is to teach how to think over what to think. It's about asking the right questions instead of giving out the right answers. It means fostering disequilibration, offering experiences that require faith and risk and--dare I say--pain. It's about equipping students with the tools they need to navigate their futures, instead of pre-made conclusions or pat answers. It's about standing back and watching as students struggle to figure out a situation and not rushing to save them from their own discomfort.

I want my son and daughter to learn how to fail well and know that they are deeply loved, regardless of mistakes. I want them to learn how to climb the ladders on their own, knowing that their father is nearby, watching and cheering and ready to pick them up if they fall. I know I have a heavenly Father who does the same for me.

How are you currently helping your kids by not helping your kids?

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