Sunday, January 24, 2010

Preventing Learned Helplessness by Promoting Independence

It's that critical time of year when kindergartners are becoming more independent. This independence can lead to a strong sense of efficacy with an "I can do it" mentality. Sometimes, though, our actions actually sabotage a child's strides toward autonomy. 
The progress toward independence can be tentative during this time as kids become more aware of their growing bodies, abilities and those of peers. At times kids seem to sense that their parents miss their "preschool years" and their precious dependence. It's wonderful to reminisce and share their sweet memories, while also pointing out how great it is that your child is growing stronger and more capable each day.
If you feel the need to jump in and help your child conquer a challenge, please stop for a moment and think: will my help encourage my child to move on and be willing and able to attempt tasks himself? Am I encouraging and modeling that hard work can solve problems? Or will my help give my child the idea that she is not capable of doing the job herself?
The most effective way to support a child in learning a new skill is to scaffold him, support him to take on a task (or even a step of a task) just beyond what he thinks he can do. Have you ever seen the smile of mastery on the face of a child just learning to ride a bike? Yes, we give them training wheels so they can learn to balance first and get the feeling of the bike.  We run aside them cheering them on, teaching them to keep going when they get scared. We also must eventually let go and encourage them to try their hardest and be prepared for the inevitable fall. Not only must we teach them to work hard to succeed but to fail well and learn from it.  
Yes, we tend to want to protect our children, but we must not hold them back. They deserve to thrive with the right amount of autonomy and independence.


Reading Countess said...

I cannot agree with you more! I made the mistake of being the Mom who swooped in and rescued our oldest son at the drop of a hat, and I feel I contributed to his lack of self-esteem. Although he is a bright and funny boy, he does not feel it at all. On the other hand, our other two boys have much more confidence, and I attribute it to us taking a more hands off approach in terms of fixing everything for them. You would think I would have known better being an educator...
Great post!

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thanks so much for your input. I know that we do so many things in love not realizing the impact until later; I see so many parents who love their kids so much yet enable their dependence. I am sure I made many mistakes while my kids were growing up but fortunately parenting doesn't have to be perfect! Thanks again for the comment.

Jill Argyle said...

Great ideas! I was chatting with other teachers recently about how we don't foster independence and how children tend to be wrapped in cotton wool and learn helplessness. Bravo - I shall be following your blogs!

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thanks Jill! It's always amazing to see how powerful it is when we scaffold and set kids up to succeed by backing off a bit. Thanks for your input.