As parents, we want to make sure our kids are okay, but you don’t always have to save your kids — let them experience the benefits of struggle.
My toddler stores his crayons in a wooden box with a sliding plastic cover. The kind of cover that seems all but impossible for a two-year-old to actually close.
Doing so requires aligning the piece into the grooves of the box on both its sides. Suffice it to say, I resorted to closing the box for him whenever he’d accidentally remove it.
But as time moved on (and my patience waned), I wondered if I should give him the benefit of the doubt. And that he just might be able to do this on his own.
As difficult as it was to watch my kid solve this box, I knew I had to let him struggle.
Why you don’t always have to save your kids
Maybe author Daniel Coyle would agree with me. In his book, The Talent Code (affiliate link), he says that struggle helps us perform better.
One of the best ways we learn is by doing and practicing what we’re trying to learn. We learn a language better by speaking than by reading grammar and translation books. We score better on tests when we take practice tests than just studying for the same amount of time.
And kids learn to walk, talk, run and play by doing them over and over.
So why do we step in at the smallest sign of struggle? It’s awkward to watch kids go through a challenge.
In Dumbing Down Our Kids, author Charles J. Sykes recalled a time when he visited a Japanese classroom. Students were solving math on the board when one boy was stuck on a problem for forty-five minutes. Sykes himself felt awkward watching him make mistake after mistake.
But the other students and the teacher didn’t seem to mind. They understood that that time is one for learning, not a time for anyone else to jump in. They knew the boy would learn best by working through it than someone showing him the answer.
We also want to protect them from the frustration of not solving a problem. For any parent who has ever gone through a fussy day with their kid, the last thing we need is another outburst. And so we try to make nice and placate our kids to keep them from going down the monstrous path.
The benefits of struggle
But then I realized I was basing my actions on assumptions. That my toddler hardly throws a fit when he can’t figure it out.
Instead, he’ll usually ask for help when he realizes that the problem is beyond his ability. Nowadays, I wait for him to tell me that he needs help rather than assuming that he does to begin with.
And we shield our kids from struggle because we feel that the problem may be too hard for their age and abilities.
This is actually why I started closing my toddler’s box for him. I didn’t think he would even be able to do this on his own. And I may have been correct—he probably wasn’t able to slip the cover in on the first try.
I should’ve let him try, even from the get go, if only to establish an encouraging environment for him. The chances of him closing the box may not have been high at such a young age.
I could’ve still used the same supportive language while he tried to master the skill. “Looks like you’re trying to close the box. That’s right… you’ve got a good grip on it. What should you do next?”
Even if the most he can do is hold the plastic cover, he knows I encourage practice and believe he’ll close it.
Be mindful about allowing your child to struggle. Find a challenging activity so he remains engaged but not so challenging it’s impossible. Don’t see the situation as something to skip over—a time for an adult to step in and do it the right way.
Instead, see struggle as a chance for your child to practice and learn. He won’t master anything on the first try, but give him the opportunity to try at all.
Get more tips:
- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
- It’s Not Too Late: How to Unspoil Your Child
- How to Teach Our Kids to Embrace Mistakes
- Homework Mistakes You Should Definitely Avoid
- How to Stop Siblings from Fighting and Teach Conflict Resolution Instead
Have you stepped in too quickly when your kids struggled? Do you let your kids struggle? Let us know in the comments below!