By: Matt Mitchell, Head of School
When my daughter was in kindergarten, I struggled to teach her how to tie her shoes. After a demonstration or two, it became clear that she didn’t want my input. “I want to do it myself,” she insisted. “How can a child learn to tie her shoe laces without help?” I thought. After a few brief moments of continued explanation, I realized that I wasn’t going to get very far. Maddie had already made up her mind that she was going to do it independently. So, I left her alone. A while later, she came running, “Daddy! Daddy! I did it!” She was so proud of her accomplishment; I was proud of her, too.
The next night, as my children slipped into their pajamas before bed, it struck me that Maddie knew how to button her own pajamas. Not remembering a time when my wife or I had taught her to do so, I asked her how she had learned. She smiled and replied, “I just figured it out, Daddy!”
With two simple encounters, my daughter reminded me of a lesson from my professional training. Research, educational literature, and classroom experience have taught me the value of allowing students room to "figure it out.” Admittedly, taken to an extreme, such a "child-centered" approach smacks of progressivism. Yet, in appropriate measure, leaving room for failure and discovery is important. When it came to teaching (and parenting) my own child, the instinct to protect - in this case, from frustration and failure - got in my daughter's way. Maybe father didn't know best after all.
This illustration is instructive for us not only as educators, but also as parents. Too often, our instincts tell us to jump in and fix our children’s problems. In our well-intended efforts to protect our children, we sometimes rob them of the opportunities to learn to solve problems, handle disappointment, and fight their own battles. We also take away the pride and success that comes from having “figured it out.” With the best of intentions, we frequently “over-parent” them.
They can learn on their own how to stay organized; to keep up with their own homework; to track their own academic progress; to resolve their own conflicts; and to ask their teachers for help. They need to be adaptable to the teacher or coach whose teaching or coaching doesn’t match the child’s preferred learning style. They need opportunities to learn how to handle disappointment. Perhaps not getting an award, or not making the athletic team isn’t so bad for our kids.
It’s only natural for us to emotionally respond to our children’s hurts. Yet, while “have it your way” may have been a fitting tag line for Burger King, using such an approach to parenting is detrimental to our quest to raise children who become mature, godly young men and women who are prepared to succeed in adulthood.
There’s much to be learned from buttons and shoelaces. May God give us the grace and wisdom to be parents who prepare our children for the road of life. Perhaps more importantly, may He also give us the grace and wisdom to ensure that we do not choose instead to prepare the road of life for our children.