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Raising independent children

Is this a dying art form? For years (from my vantage point of teaching the early years in primary school) I have been bewildered by young children unable to tie laces, open lunch boxes and seemingly unable to carry even their own school bags into school!

Today, in the supermarket, I had my two little helpers as busy as I could possibly keep them. I've learned, like most of us (the hard way) this is the only way to come out of our larger supermarket trips a success.

But about today, I need to write. At the checkout the girls were busily unloading our trolley. With as little direction from me as possible, I allowed them to figure out how they could best do this. In actual fact, for a moment, there was a fleeting thought that went through my mind, that I was actually (wait for it) doing nothing!


But, seriously, I was not doing 'nothing'. As the trolley became less full and the items deeper and harder to remove the trouble-shooting I saw between this pair began. I was actually doing a whole lot, harder than intervening even. I was purposefully restraining myself from stepping in with my agenda of how the trolley would be best unloaded. I was biting my tongue and simply praising the good bits I saw. I encouraged good decisions and let them know I thought they were smart girls who would figure things out. I was restraining myself from offering suggestions at the obstacles they faced. It was hard but I am committed to raising independent children.

By the stage my youngest was no longer able to reach the bottom, I rejoiced her resourcefulness as she moved straight to the items that were still in the higher part (child seat) of the trolley. This was completely unprompted and she was given praise for working this out herself. Now that she physically could do no more I asked my eldest to keep her little sister included by passing the final items to her so she could have the job of placing them onto the conveyer.

However, for my eldest, the last two spaghetti packs were just out of her reach from where she stood on the floor. There were a few more ways that I could see (but didn't say) that could be tried. My eldest needs practise with persistence and so all I offered by way of encouragement, was to keep going and a 'you can do it'. By stepping up onto the trolley I could see she didn't quite stretch far enough to be successful. I was confident that with another wholehearted try by her it would be easily within her reach. And that's when it happened. A well-meaning and very beautiful Mum (with a very well behaved toddler close by) stepped in and my eldest was saved. This lovely lady said to her 'Here you go, just shut this part (which the lovely lady then shut) and 'step up on there like you did before... (so my eldest did) and now you can reach' (and the lovely lady handed my eldest the spaghetti).

And so I write. Why is it so hard for adults NOT to step in and 'do things' for children? Scaffolding and supporting children is the way learning happens. And yet, by doing things for children who are capable, there is learned helplessness. I'm not promoting that a child is left to do what cannot be done, or is left to the point of overwhelming frustration or defeat. I'm just saying, there is an element of space and time, there is a 'pause' that we need to afford our children so they can 'achieve' and we can admire their efforts and skills and thoughts. That's all.

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