There is a certain lazy acceptance in our society, a certain belief that children are helpless or incapable. We don’t give children responsibilities and we certainly don’t let them struggle to complete a task that we could easily do for them. We underestimate our children, and as a direct result, they underestimate themselves.
I am a strong believer in the importance of giving children responsibilities and letting them experience their own success as well as their own failure, however even I struggle with standing back when the time comes.
Recently we went on a camping trip and after watching her uncle split wood, my 2 year old, with no prompting from anyone, decided to stack the logs.
My knee jerk reaction was to try and stop her, distract her with some book or toy. I thought of all the risks associated: splinters, tripping over a small log, dropping a large log on her foot, getting bitten by some critter hiding in the wood, having the wood pile fall over onto her, etc..
Then I noticed the look of determination on her face, the focus in which she set about completing her task.
She huffed and puffed and struggled with a few larger logs, she asked for help only after she was certain she couldn’t lift a log on her own, and then she continued on with her work without accepting anymore help.
When she finished, she was proud. She had accomplished something. I’m glad that I fought my instinct to do it for her and let her do it on her own. I’m glad I let her take a risk.
In other parts of the world, in other developed countries, 5 year olds are expected to walk to school on their own, 1st graders are permitted to whittle wood around a camp fire. In other civilized societies, children are given the privilege and the basic human right of responsibility, the chance to do hard things. They experience success and failure, as well as all the joy and heartache that accompany both.
I am making the conscious decision to force myself to step back, and let my children experience life now, while they are still young.
Many American children have so little expected of them, have so much done for them everyday, that they grow up to expect very little of themselves as well. This can be very harmful to one’s self-esteem. Doing things for your child now, when they are little, seems easier in the short term but, long term, it is harder on them.
Still, there is hope for children who have bought into the belief that they are incapable. If you know a pre-teen or teenager who maybe wasn’t given enough opportunity to do hard things as a child, they might enjoy the book “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations”
I have gifted this book to several teens over the past few years and it has always been well-received. (Fair warning, it is written from a Christian perspective.)