The Science Fair is Thursday and it about killed me.
Sweet P had to conduct an experiment –hers lasted five days — record her observations, write and revise the data, then put it all on a massive poster board in a way that didn’t look dumb.
This is like a 42-thousand-step project.
Weeks of work. And the whole time I had to fight to stay out of the way.
It was her project. And while I supported, answered questions, and wielded a mean glue stick when ordered, she planned, experimented, photographed, cried, organized, railed, designed, wrote, rewrote, rewrote, cried, glued, cut, printed and last night, she finished. On her own.
Tough not to take over. Help her more. But more than anything on this planet I want Sweet P to know her own power. I want her to learn to trust herself. To know that when things get hard, (and oh sweet girl they will get hard), that she can figure a way through. That she can be challenged and beaten and scared and confused, and still cope, because she is that capable.
I feel like when we step in, or step in too soon we are sending a message to our kids that they can’t cope. That we don’t believe in their ability to handle things. This robs them of the opportunity to learn, to gain those coping skills they’ll need for everything else. But it also steals from them their success, because when they soar, they will believe it’s only because their parents prodded, protected, pushed them along the way.
In Sweet Ps opinion, she’s faced some tremendous challenge already in her nine years (What? I no cellphone, but all my friends have them…. ) But with our love and support and suggestions she’s dealt with them in a way that ultimately left her feeling stronger and more successful.
In my opinion, Sweet P is getting some grand learning opportunities while the stakes are still low. Her life will not be ruined by a messy science project or forgotten lunch. As long as I don’t bail her out, she’ll find a way to eat and it is through these little challenges that she’ll learn to cope with the big stuff.
I don’t always do this well, leave room for her to make mistakes. Sometimes I feel frustrated and panicked and I want her to do it my way. It’s hard to watch her struggle. And for sure there have been times when I’ve stepped in because she is nine and the situation called for a grown-up. But mostly, I love and encourage and suggest and advise and leave it for her to figure out.
It isn’t easy to do, but remembering to do these three things can help.
1. Wait, and see what your kid can do. Our kids need to have their own experiences, even when it is uncomfortable and slow and oh-my-god-just-get-the-shoes-tied. Even when they handle it differently than we would like, they must be responsible for some of the decisions and the outcomes of those decisions.
They must learn to keep going, even when it’s hard. Often, when Sweet P asks for help I’ll wait a moment or two to see what she does next. I’ll offer to help right after I go to the bathroom or take out the garbage and by the time I get back she’s usually worked through her homework challenge or figured out how to reach the bowls from the cupboard. If she is still struggling, I’ll ask her to show me what she’s working on. Or we’ll brainstorm ideas. Usually, I just need to get her thinking and she can find her way through. She’s learning to be a creative problem solver.
2. Offer suggestions, examples, encouragement, but not the answers. Don’t cut his pancake, watch and see how he does first. Shoes keep coming untied? Show her how to do a double knot, and let her figure it out. Problem with a classmate or teacher? Offer a suggestion, or encourage him to set up a meeting with the teacher and let him take it from there. Our kids are much more capable then we give them credit for. Step back, see how they handle their business, before taking it over.
3. Freak out in private. I do not always do this, sometimes I don’t have the discipline. But, I’m working on this wholeheartedly. Instead of micro-managing, offering too many opinions, talking in a “tone,” I take lots of deep breaths and watch how things unfold, quietly offering ideas or “things to think about.” Then, I leave. I actually must walk out of the room so I don’t start rolling my eyes or biting my nails or offering advice.
I take a timeout, go to the bedroom, hit my head against the wall and lament that she will never, ever be able to hold a job because she can’t even get her shoes to stay tied. Then, after a bit, I return, usually to find she’s already taken care of business.
I want Sweet P to explore, engage, create. I want her to have fun, to see adversity as something she can manage and grow from. I want her to have the confidence to pursue her dreams even when the risk of failure is high. I want her to trust herself so that she can also trust others.
I don’t need to take her troubles away – it’s much better for her if I don’t. I don’t need to fix or manage her hardships. But, I will stand alongside her as she deals with them, and in the end, I’ll be there to celebrate her successes.
And people, the science project is now complete.