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Creating Independence

Sometimes creating the need for our children to develop independence goes against our natural instincts as parents. Our role is to nurture and protect our children, right? Unfortunately if we don’t set them up to work through challenges when they are young they might not develop strategies or even the confidence to try as they get older.

I can’t stand the word GRIT.

I also have a hard time with the word STRUGGLE.

I feel they have no place in education or in the home. At the same time I don’t believe that we should try to prevent our children from experiencing any challenges. Perseverance, ambition, and drive may be the product people strive for when they talk about grit and struggle. Some might say it’s just a matter of which words you choose. I don’t happen to believe we are just describing the proverbial elephant from different angles. I have seen “grit” and “struggle” wear away at the natural curiosity to learn to the point of shut down both emotionally and educationally. Nobody ever said, or intended, that learning needed to be a negative experience. Yet the words grit and struggle imply, to me at least, that the difficulty and negativity one experiences IS what makes one successful. How sad is that?

Are we growing confidence and independence OR are we interfering?

The manner in which we support and guide a child to work through inevitable challenges (whatever they may be for a particular child) can make them or break them.

We can push them through hardships so they learn those lessons OR we can walk WITH them offering encouragement and opportunities to discover the strengths they already have inside. I really don’t believe we need to create challenges or look for hardships to grow character. Doesn’t life naturally throw enough in the path anyway?

This can be a hot parenting topic but that’s really beyond the scope of what I intended to write about here. I’d like to share another “Lesson from Beebe” in hopes that I work my way back to the topic of creating or at least encouraging independence from early education ages.

One day in my early experiences at the Beebe Center I had another one of those life lessons. The weather was dreadful with heavy rain as a mother came into the lobby carrying her child. The child was about 6 or 7 years old which ordinarily would be too old for a parent to carry, however, this child had a physical disability. He COULD walk independently but it was noticeably labored which slowed him down.

None of the other parents or I thought anything of the mother carrying him in from the car. It was more efficient and it prevented them both from getting uncomfortably wet. I most certainly would have done the same thing in that situation. Well, apparently not Beebe!

What would Beebe do?

When Beebe spotted the mom carrying her child she said “Put that child down, he needs to walk on his own two feet. I’d suggest you go back out and let him do just that”

Beebe had the reputation of being nearly a miracle worker, teaching deaf children to listen and speak. Nobody I know of ever challenged her wisdom with defiance. This particular mom was no different. She went back out and entered again, a bit wetter than the first time, with the child just behind her walking on his own two feet.

I had thought it was a bit harsh to make them go back out into the rain. When they returned Beebe explained her perspective to both of us. I guess she saw the wide- eyed look of shock on my face. She explained something like this “Think about the possible messages that boy might have taken from being carried considering his age.”

Is the child learning what you THINK you are teaching?

All I could imagine was that he would think how much his mother loved him that she would protect him from the rain and make it easier for him.”

Quite the contrary Beebe believed he could have gotten the wrong message. He could have learned to believe that he was a burden. Even worse, he could have learned that his own mother didn’t believe in his strength to endure an uncomfortable situation.

The truth is that we could never have a way to know what he might have believed, but even just the possibility that he could think he was a burden or weak would be far worse that getting a little wetter in the rain.

Beebe explained it’s especially important to always look ahead. I think back now and I agree “Wouldn’t it be better that he learned to cope with small annoyances in the company of a supportive loving family that stands by him cheering him on than it would be to hit a wall of a bigger “annoyance” without the coping skills when he is older?”

This doesn’t mean we have to create hardship or challenges for our children. It merely means we have to take advantage of the naturally occurring ones that pop up in life to teach a child how to think critically, create problem solving options and make choices or even take risks confidently. Without being walked through the process when a child is young it’s possible the result will be a dear in the headlights when faced with the first thing that doesn’t go along as planned or expected.

Start with encouraging small risks. Praise effort, not perfection. Model your own thinking but talking out loud about how you handle small situations. Model self acceptance of your own mistakes. Verbally model how you talk to yourself internally when you are frustrated. This can all begin with small simple tasks or chores within the home. These are the seeds of life confidence, problem solving, and persistence.

Independence starts young in small steps

The process of creating an inner voice to verbally reason through situations shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is something we all learn, some more naturally than others, but it develops through life experiences AND challenges.

Encouraging a child to do things on their own says “You CAN do it!” and even more importantly “I believe in you”.

You can read “High Expectations or Just High Hopes” in a previous post here

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Pamela Talbot

Pamela is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist dually certified as a teacher of the hearing impaired. She is a Listening and Spoken Language LSLS-AVT. Pamela has extensive experience training parents and professionals at the international level.