Little 2-year-old Madeline gazed up at a giant bunch of birthday balloons high above her head. She then looked down at the end of the ribbons knotted together, as she gripped them tightly in her tiny fist. She looked up and back down again, and I could see her mind working as she focused on her task at hand. I was sitting with our friends, half-listening to the conversation next to me and half watching Madeline work toward her ultimate goal. As a preschool teacher in social settings, I often find myself drawn to what the children are doing. It’s not that I’m socially awkward or don’t enjoy the company of other adults, but I find it difficult to shut off my “teacher brain''. And let’s face it, sometimes kids are just more interesting!
So there I was, caught up in “kid land” happening behind our table. Madeline used her tiny fingers to pinch and pull on the ribbons, continuing to look up at the balloons, and then back down again. Finally, after about 15 minutes of intense focus, Madeline pinched and pulled free a single strand of ribbon attached to a shiny green balloon. As the balloon pulled free from the others, her sweet face lit up with a giant smile. SUCCESS! She proudly bounced around the room in delight, clutching the ribbon attached to her green balloon as it swayed high above her head.
How sweet is it to experience success after trial and error? Have you ever tried something repeatedly and been frustrated? What was your level of determination in trying to solve your problem? And once you achieved success, wasn’t part of the reward knowing that you did it YOURSELF?
Autonomy is the ability of a person to act on their own free will. When a child has autonomy, even in small ways, it helps build their confidence, self-esteem, and independence. Encouraging your child to try tasks that he/she has not done before, offering realistic choices, and respecting their efforts to complete the task helps them achieve autonomy.
When my kiddos were younger I felt like we were always rushing, throwing on their coats and shoes at the last minute as we hurried to our next destination. As parents, we often want to help make things easier on our children, and in turn, think this makes it easier on us as it is one less battle to fight. In the grand scheme of things, how much time are we actually saving? And in the long run, isn’t it a bigger time-saver if children can accomplish these tasks THEMSELVES?
Many years ago I remember talking my son through putting his socks on by himself for the first time. At one point he threw his head back in frustration, tears starting to run down his cheeks. I felt terrible. Was I pushing him too hard? I am surely scarring him for life. Maybe he’s not ready for this? But…I had chosen to fight this battle and was determined to see it through. I cheered him on. “You’ve got it bud-almost there!” We watched the sock inch slowly onto his foot little by little until finally, with one big tug, it slipped over his heel and…SUCCESS! He did it! I teared up as I saw the look of pride and happiness wash over his sweet little face. It was absolutely worth the struggle and from that day on, he insisted on putting on his own socks every time, no matter how long it took.
As we left my friend’s birthday party, little Madeline had freed another balloon and handed it to her older sister. She was still gripping her prized green balloon as she shifted her focus to the giant knot of ribbons in front of her. She pinched and pulled at the knot like a pro. My husband turned to her older cousin who was babysitting and said, “You know, if you want to keep her busy you should untie ALL of the balloons.” I looked at Madeline, still focused intently on her task. “Or you could let HER do it. She seems happy and it could keep her occupied for a while.” As my husband helped me with my coat I thought how nice it was to have help, but also nice to know I could do it myself if I wanted to.