Stepping Back

An interesting situation came up recently while I was visiting a school. We were outside in the play area with about 30 kids ages 2-5. I was quietly watching the children when I noticed two of them fighting over a jump rope. They were raising their voices, but their words were logical, and they were working out who deserved to have the rope. As one of the teachers and I watched them, my instinct to jump in and help them solve the problem kicked in, but I refrained. At that point, the teacher voiced exactly what I had been thinking: “We try to give them time to work these things out by themselves.”

When a situation like this arises at the YMCA where I work, I normally jump in much sooner, attempting to solve the problem and resume peace in the classroom as quickly as possible. However, while I was in this other environment, watching these children argue, I had clear intentions to leave them alone. I believed, rather knew, that they could work it out by themselves. However, I still had the urge to jump in and help, and unfortunately, this urge usually gets the better of me. While I understand that sometimes adult intervention is necessary when a situation escalates, we often jump in long before it has come to that point, without even knowing if it would ever reach that point. Adults are so quick to take over for children, to assume they cannot do something and jump in to help them before they even have a chance to try. Instead of offering help, we impose it on them. This is something we would never do to another adult, at least not without protest from the adult we trying to help.

Children learn from trying things. From touching, manipulating, experimenting with, and voicing things. A lot of the time, we let them do this without question, allow them to explore without interrupting. But as soon as they seem to struggle with something, we rush to their side to help. But we aren’t helping, we are interrupting their experiment. We are undermining their ability to do things, and showing them that we lack trust in their capabilities. Our intentions are good, of course, we see ourselves as helping a being less capable than ourselves, but these things are more complicated than that. Unfortunately, many things are more complicated than we want them to be. So next time you start to rush to the side of a struggling, yet persistent child, or try to stop a verbal argument without giving them time to resolve it themselves, think twice. Remember that we all had to learn these skills at some point, and if we stop the experiment, if we get in the middle of the argument, we are not allowing them to learn, we are not allowing them to explore, and we are not allowing them to develop.

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