The other day, we were at a friend’s house and Bugz was playing with the family’s set of Legos. They have a child who has a fetish (they have thousands of Legos), and a truly rare talent. I don’t know how this kid builds the stuff that is produced, but it’s awe inspiring.
Bugz has never shown much interest in blocks, Legos, or other like toys, yet she routinely builds and invents, engineers devices that serve some purpose which is almost either always self evident, or obvious with only a slight explanation. Legos? Well, not so much. At least she doesn’t play them with me. She will sit for an hour with her Papa and play with them, but not otherwise. Maybe it’s me…
That said, this day, she’d wandered into the play room where all this family’s Legos are kept, and she actually started to play with them. She wasn’t exactly building anything, but she had rounded up all the human-like figures and had slipped into the realm of Legoland.
After she’d been occupied for about 20 minutes with the Legos, it became time for she and I to return to our own home. I began the alerting sequence (more on this in another post), and in the process, the mother of the family noticed Bugz was struggling with attaching a set of crutches (or some like assistance device) to one of the little Lego people. I noticed too. I stood silently and watched her struggle. Bugz looked up at me and explained that she was having a hard time figuring out how to get them to stay where she assumed they should. I acknowledged her plight. I replied that I assumed I would find it also a challenge.
She continued in her attempt and I continued in my silent support.
A moment later, the mother of the family whose home we were in, knelt down and took from my daughter the toy she was struggling with. This woman did so stating, “Here, let me help you. I can do it”.
I watched my daughter deflate at first, become confused, then annoyed.
A moment later, “Here, Bugz, I think it’s done. You just have to know how to do it.”, so says this adult, while attempting to shove the toy back into my now disinterested daughter’s hands.
“I don’t want to play with it anymore.” Bugz then got up to leave, but hesitated when the mother in question spat out an sarcastic, “Well, uh, I, humph… ooohhhkkaayyy.”
About this time, I stepped in, ignoring the adult, and knelt next to my standing daughter. I told her that I thought it was pretty cool she’d assembled the Lego people she had, and that she had been working with them. She reiterated she didn’t want to play anymore, and I simply acknowledged her, knowing the lack of benefit if I’d gone any further at that moment (with the other mom right there).
All of this happened in the span of less than 90 seconds.
We departed, Bugz was mad. She wasn’t stating why.
When we got home, I sat down with her, face to face, to have a conversation about her feelings. She was mad. Mad. I asked her to help me understand why. She couldn’t. She was just mad.
I knew why… so I led her a bit.
“Bugz, was it frustrating to not be able to get those crutches thingies on the little Lego guy?”
“It would have frustrated me… but then again, you are much more skilled at Legos than I am.”
“So, would you have liked me to have helped somehow?”
“No. It was hard though. They didn’t fit right.”
“You’re right… I think the crutches might have been meant for a special Lego person, different than the one you had chosen.”
“Oooohhh…. Yeah, there was one with a cast on its leg. Maybe that would have been the match.”
Pause… (She spent a moment thinking to herself.)
“Why didn’t you want to play anymore with the Legos after (name of other mom) decided to show you how to force the crutches to stay on the Lego person you were working on?”
“Did you like that she decided to take care of making them work instead of letting you figure it out?”
“I couldn’t get them to stay on the blue one. I would have tried the guy with the cast on his leg. She made them stay on but it wasn’t right… That’s why I couldn’t get them to… Why did she take it from me?”
“She didn’t trust that you would be able to do what you wanted to. She didn’t trust your ability to play and solve what you wanted to. She thought you needed her help. Did you?”
“No. I didn’t want her to do it for me. I didn’t know why it was stuck and not working…”
“Would you have wanted me to help?”
“No. I could do it. I don’t like that she came in… and I don’t want to play with those Legos ever again!”
“I understand. I don’t think I would have wanted her to take the toy and do it for me either. I think I would have eventually figured it out, or done something to fix it, or just decided to do something else.”
“I think your skill with building and tinkering is really cool, so does your Papa.”
“Yeah, I built him a Navigator Rabbit. He has it in his truck… If you stick it in the cup holder, and move the arms here (shows me) and there (shows me) and then – – -, and it will tell him, ‘Turn right there’, and – – – it will help him know how to get back home to me..”
– Conversation concluded. –
Lesson: Don’t undermine the confidence and self esteem in your child by stepping in, unless you’re asked (or there is a question of safety, perhaps, and then still, do whatever you do with the utmost respect for their ability). All you’re proving is that you, the adult, don’t think they’re good enough. Why would you do this? Seriously. Does the adult have something to prove (besides demonstrating their impatience, perhaps)?
It’s deflating, it’s undermining, it’s destructive to the spirit of the little person. Instead, given the opportunity to determine what their OWN solution will be, that little person will develop another strong and solid link in their chain of self confidence and assurance.
Why crush a child’s spirit? Why interfere? It causes them to resent that “assistance” and the person who didn’t trust them to succeed.
This is a common response from parents and older siblings, and it’s so damaging (and so easily avoided). Jump ahead a few years and watch what happens when that same parent behaves this way toward his/her teenage (or worse, pre-teen) child. And we wonder why so many parents have so many struggles with their teens. Honestly, it’s not complicated. Stop smashing your little ones, uphold them and honor them for all they are and all they do, respect their autonomy and value, and acknowledge fully all they accomplish and learn – fully admire their development right where it is, right then, right now.
And DON’T STOP when they become old enough to oppose you. Whether that happens at two years, ten years, or 16. Value that confidence and ability in them, know that your faith in them helped put it there. You don’t want a kid that agrees and follows, complies with everything, and doesn’t think for themselves. You don’t. It’s not easier. It’s not better. And if you think this is what would make your life easier, if your teen or pre-teen would just “pay attention and do (whatever it is you want/don’t want them to)”, you’re wrong, and YOU are the problem – fix it by starting with yourself and learning what you did to create the environment and dynamics now unwanted.
Would you take a few minutes today and make a list of whatever comes to mind that your child(ren) possess a unique or individual skill/ability for. Something exception, something simple. Then, make a list of some things they’re struggling with. After each line of struggles, explain directly WHY you have faith in them to solve their own struggle to their own satisfaction (not your way).
Now, give them the list (or speak it to a younger child over the next day/two). Say nothing more. Expect nothing. Just observe and keep your responses to a limited smile and nod, eye to eye, if the child responds at all.
Wait (an hour, a day, a week… maybe months).
– You’ll see.
Would you take a moment right now and create your list? Would you share it here?
What about an experience you’ve had where you’ve observed the response of a child who has been the recipient of an adult who has ‘stepped in’ where the child would have otherwise succeeded/or not (to their own satisfaction) on their own. Put yourself in the position of that child… What feelings does it evoke within you? Can you imagine now how you – being that child – might feel if, after speaking your opposition to the diminishment, was then also told that opposition was wrong/ungrateful/rude/inconsiderate/disrespectful (or any other slew of condemnations adults might throw)? Do you see what we do to our children when we tell them we don’t have faith in them? Do you? So… just don’t.