Telling Your Child to ‘Figure it Out’ is a Good Thing

by on December 26th, 2010
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As parents, we often find ourselves doing things for our children that they could easily do themselves. Even though my son is three-and-a-half, there are many times I find myself feeding him his dinner despite the fact that he’s capable of doing it himself. When he yells for help, I often rush to his aid. However, as an educator, I have seen how my constant (and often unnecessary) assistance can have a negative impact on my child later in life, especially in school. Although it usually takes more time and patience, it’s better for me to tell my son to “figure it out” rather than doing it for him.

Here are some ways these early struggles pay off:

1. Build Problem Solving Skills:

Almost daily, I encounter a student who has forgotten their homework at home, was unable to get a paper to print, lost their notes, or couldn’t figure out how to complete an assignment. When they come to me to explain the problem, I always ask them, “Well, what do you think you could do about this?” The response is always a blank stare – not because they’re playing dumb, but because they honestly don’t know. They want me to provide a solution for them.

Since parents are always rushing in to fix problems, my students literally have no real-life problem-solving skills. If we allow our children to struggle with certain tasks from time to time, like tying their own shoes or trying to figure out how to get a toy out from behind the couch, they begin to build a repertoire of problem-solving skills that can be put to use later on.

2. Increase Autonomy:

Children like to be independent about certain things such as their clothing and music, but they continue to rely on adults to constantly reassure them and take care of most of the challenges they encounter. In every class, I have handfuls of students who want me right by their side as they work out every math problem or answer every reader response question. By the time these students reach college, they’re no better off, often lacking the confidence they need to be successful.

By not constantly rushing to our children’s aid, we teach them that it’s okay to take risks and even fail. Thus, they become more confident in their own abilities and less reliant on the help of others.

3. Encourage Self-Efficacy

Along with autonomy comes self-efficacy. In general, students who feel they have the skills and abilities to be successful in school are, most often, more successful than their peers who have a low level of self-efficacy. Throughout their lives, students are learning important strategies and tactics that allow them to feel prepared to face any educational challenges. We can begin to help our kids build self-efficacy at a very early age by letting them learn those strategies through small struggles.

Even though it can be difficult to resist the urge to rush in and rescue our children every time they’re caught in a predicament, we’ll help them more in the long-run by sitting back and letting them figure it out.


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