We want our kids to succeed, plain and simple. We want to see them thrive, accomplish things, feel good about themselves, and reach their potential. For some parents, though, the pathway to mastery can be pretty painful. So if you ache to watch your child trying to learn a new skill, if you feel an impulse to jump in and rescue them from a challenge, or if you have an even harder time than your child does coping when they miss the mark, this article is for you!
First off, your compassion for your child is beautiful. The fact that you feel so deeply for them is a visceral sign of how deeply you love them, how connected you feel to them, and how far your empathy travels. However, if your level of discomfort exceeds theirs when watching them tackling a difficult challenge, it might get in the way of their ability to master a skill.
Following are some tips to help you navigate moments when your child is facing a challenge. These are ways to help you balance how much to help versus how much to lay off. In addition, how to resist that pesky impulse to intervene at the wrong moment!
When to Step In
It is healthy for children to confront some challenges. Facing novel tasks head-on encourages them to develop their problem-solving skills, build grit and resilience, use creativity, work on self-regulation, and cultivate independence. But when the challenge is too steep, it can be discouraging and promote feelings of inadequacy.
When you’re trying to figure out whether to step in, first consider your child’s developmental level. Think about what skills they already have, and take a beat to determine whether you have good reason to believe they can apply those skills to the current situation. If the task seems entirely beyond their reach, consider the least possible intervention to make the task possible. A little bit of frustration on their end is okay – in fact, it can even be motivating – so long as the frustration doesn’t rise so much that they can’t cope with it. The goal here is to scaffold them towards mastery of a new skill. The sweet spot is when they have to work a little harder and use a little ingenuity to figure it out.
Wait It Out
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a task is at the right level for a kid to take on independently. If you’re concerned that you might intervene too soon and get in the way of their progress, hit pause. See if you can hold off for 5 minutes before stepping in. This will give you and them some time to see if they can figure it out independently.
But how do you fight that all-consuming urge to step in??
Find Your Mantra
Come up with a short and snappy phrase you can repeat to yourself in the moment to remind yourself why you’re stepping back. He can do this. This is how she’ll learn. My anxiety doesn’t need to be his anxiety. Find the thought that fits for you and say it in your mind as much as necessary. If you need something even more substantial, you can write the thought down on an index card that you keep in your wallet as a visual reminder.
Observe Your Feelings Like Clouds
Feelings don’t last forever. If you wait long enough, each feeling will pass, and new feelings come along. If your distress level is high and makes you want to “rescue” your child (when your child is doing okay on their own…), label your feeling. Do you feel scared? Anxious? Uncomfortable? Find the word that fits your emotional state, and imagine that word plastered across a cloud overhead. Observe the cloud floating in, covering you in its shade, then moving along until it’s out of sight. This practice not only grounds you in the moment and makes you feel more in control of your emotions, but it also serves as a distraction to help you wait it out!
If All Else Fails, Step Away
If the urge to intervene is too strong, and you know it could cause negative repercussions (like embarrassing your child in front of his friends, perhaps!), separate yourself. Pace out of sight, turn your head away from the situation, distract yourself by talking to someone else, or even scroll through your phone. Bonus: taking the time to help yourself cool down when your emotions get the best of you is excellent modeling for your children to learn how to cool down when their emotions get the best of them!
Remember, we all need to stumble to learn how to get back up again. It’s okay to let your kids work some challenges out on their own, so long as they have the skillset and self-confidence to do so. The more opportunities they have, even if they don’t end successfully, the more they’ll grow!