I had a moment with my three-year-old today. He had just received one of those plastic helicopter things you can twist in your hand to make it fly up in the air. I asked if I could try it and he said yes. I took it and pretended to struggle and learn how to do it. After a moment he took it from my hand and said, “Here, let me show you.” My reaction was strong and immediate.
I was only pretending; it was not even something I was interested or invested in. Still, I felt a deep resentment bubble up. It’s like my hands and mind were robbed of the most important and fulfilling part of the experience. I wanted to feel it, test it, and flip it around in many different ways. As soon as he took it from me my plans were gone and I was flooded with emotions similar to anger, resentment, and sadness. Let me remind you I was only pretending!
I was so reactive to this experience because “playing around with” and the process of learning about something are more fulfilling than the end result. Once you learn how to make it fly, that’s all the experience offers. It flies and falls, flies and falls, over and over. Once the process of learning is done the experience can be a boring one. During the learning a.k.a playing process, I am a scientist, a tester, an observer, and a worker, I have a purpose and intention. We rob our children of this every time we say, “Here, let me show you.”
Here is another example. Picture a toddler learning to climb the ladder up to the slide. She struggles, moves slowly, waits, and thinks about her plan for the next move. She might even get caught in a tricky situation and need some help. She could decide the task is too hard and live to try it another day. Eventually, over time (maybe even months or years of time) she will accomplish the climb. It will have been a project she stuck to, practiced, and worked out. It will be a success that belongs solely to her. Her strength, attention, skills, interest, and practice will be what got her there. The experience would have been rich, challenging, and rewarding.
Next picture a toddler with a caregiver who says, "Here put your hand there, now let me move your foot to this one. Great! You did it! Now go down the slide." The experience for the second toddler is unfulfilling, boring, "easy", and mostly about the adult. Also, we risk being inauthentic and patronizing because the second toddler could easily be thinking, "Good job? For what? You did everything! I can't even do this."
Instead, we need to step back and observe quietly more often. We also need to trust that our children will learn things on their own when their ability, interest, and motivation align to figure it out. Obviously, I need more practice with this. Where do you think my three-year-old gets it?! 😊