The Struggle Is Real
I literally. Can't. Even.
On the struggle bus.
Circling the drain.
We're sooooooo dramatic, aren't we? Somehow in our world of instant gratification and not wanting to deal, we have lost the ability to deal with struggle. You may remember the days when we had to wait for the dial-up modem to eeeeeeekchhhhhhhhtbberbooBEEEEEEEEEP for 2-30 minutes before we could check our email. Can you even imagine if we had to suffer that horrid fate to log in now? Forget it! But the actual struggle is very real, especially for kiddos, and if we continually keep them off of that bus, we also deprive them of learning stops along the way.
What's the deal? Who likes to see their kids struggle? Remember when you were still counting your child's age in weeks and they were figuring out how to roll over? We watched with enthusiasm usually saved only for superbowls and fireworks as they wriggled their way from tummy to back and over again. They figured it out and became genius experts at it. From that milestone we witnessed countless others from crawling to standing to walking. But somewhere between potty training and shoe tying though, the struggles became less exciting and cute, and we started to lose patience.
"Here just let me tie it for you."
"Just wear these velcro shoes, you take forever."
Now we're so busy, our kids seem so slow, that we keep dragging them to keep up. Tying shoes, zippering zippers, putting their toys away... Before long we are resentful because they want us to do everything! Yeah, I know. I did it, too. It's impossible to be patient all the time and we do have to demonstrate how to do things. But how ok is it to let our kids struggle when things are hard for them?
Think back on some of the things you've had to learn in life. Rattle off five or six. I'll wait. While you think here are some of mine: learning to drive, play the piano, bake, deal with people..... ok do you have your list? I bet everything on that list had two things that occurred before you were able to master them: struggle and failure. Friends, it takes both of those to learn! But we've assigned such negative value to straggle and failure that we work to avoid them at all costs.
Here are some tips to help your child deal with struggles, and the inevitable failures that accompany learning the tasks of life. First, know that struggle and some degree of both failure and success will happen every day. Expect it. Help your child identify times when the are struggling and name it. "Learning to write your name sure is a struggle isn't it?" We have to teach how to identify what they are feeling and how to deal with it. Ask questions about the struggle of the moment and help them frame it. "Do you feel frustrated tying your shoe? Won't it feel awesome when you figure it out? It's like a puzzle isn't it?" Let them know that struggle will always be part of life! It's normal, it's healthy, it's ok.
Try to avoid sweeping statements that dismiss what they are feeling. "You'll get it someday...come on it's easy...don't get upset...don't get frustrated..." Allowing kids to figure things out with well-placed coaching helps them own their learning as well as the awesome feeling that comes with a breakthrough. What feels better than that "I DID IT!" moment?
As kids grow up the struggles become more intense and often less visible. When things happen we want to swoop in! FIX! SAVE! CRUSH!
Most of life's struggles lead to.......... you guessed it. Learning. Is it tough to watch the kids struggle with things you could easily do for them in seconds? Darn straight. Don't worry though, that leads to learning, too. Learning that someone will do things for them, and that they aren't capable of accomplishing things. Instead of taking over, try coaching through. Athletes fail all the time. It's the getting up part that makes them strong. When your kiddo fails at something, instead of berating, yelling, or being mad (which means you are owning the failure), ask them how it feels. Ask how good it would feel to succeed. Give them some pointers to help them make it happen. Then, and here is the tough part, walk away from it. Yep. Let them think about it and maybe even try on their own. Teaching and allowing your child to be independent is the greatest gift you can give them.
Of course there is a disclaimer. There are times to jump on that speeding struggle bus and bring it to a screeching halt. If the safety, health, or physical or mental well-being of your child or others is concerned, by all means take that wheel. There are situations that children are not developmentally ready to handle, as well as situations when something going on is just bad. In those moments there are no trite phrases to offer, just get in there and give the help, or find the help, that your child needs.
Successfully navigating the struggle bus through the normal curvy roads of life helps children grow into confident young adults who can problem-solve and find their way through the rougher roads ahead. Solving and fixing everything sends them onto life's highways on a tricycle. The next time you are tempted to swoop in and do something your child needs to learn or do for themselves, stop. They've got this!
*Leo meme in honor of Erin H. -Elizabeth, PA