'Let me try and I'll show you I CAN'
Brace yourselves for yet another wonderful post written by a wonderful friend and previous peer, Sarah Carstens.
“He can’t kick the ball”, “Oh no, he can’t do that!”, “No look she CAN catch a ball, here pass me her hand and I will show you.” As an occupational therapist, these are often some of the remarks that I’ve heard from the parents and caregivers of the children that I get to work with on a daily basis.
For instance, recently I’ve had the opportunity to be part of a multidisciplinary team in rehabilitating a little boy that just so happened to show the world that he in fact CAN and WILL – all he needed was a little time and the opportunity to try.
Our first encounter happened to be within the paediatric ICU, where I met his parents with wide eyes and great concern. Being the trooper that I soon learnt he would be, he successfully underwent surgery and was transferred to a general ward whereby the rehabilitation phase started. Initially it was hard, there were two distinct emotions experienced in that little cubicle room. You see, as a therapist, I was filled with hope, the hope that this little trooper would be able to obtain his functional goals with a little bit of help and a little bit of time. His parents, on the other hand, were filled with despair, as could be expected after a stint in ICU, especially having had to watch as their little one tried to regain his abilities to do the things that he once was able to do. This story ended well and little Mr T is currently running around a ward, playing with other children and his parent’s eyes have been opened to the fact that he is more than capable to do anything if they let him try.
I’ve worked with enough children and parents to know that it’s not only my medically severe patients that go through this experience, but all. It appears as though, in this fast- paced world we live in, children have more done to them than for them, on a global level. Don’t believe me? Have a quick glance at the questions below and identify where you and your child/ children stand:
I allow my child to try feed himself/ herself using different utensils giving them the opportunity to learn, even if it means that they get a little messy; OR; It’s just easier and faster to feed them and then I don’t have to clean up after them.
·I spend time teaching and allowing my child to learn how to build a puzzle; even if it takes us an hour; OR; It’s easier for me to add in some pieces or to build the outline for them first, otherwise it takes too long to complete.
I let my child try to dress himself/ herself and assist minimally when they need me; OR; I don’t have time in the mornings to allow them to dress themselves, they anyway put their clothes on inside-out or backwards, it’s just easier and better for me to do it for them.
You see, it is a global phenomenon whereby time is precious so it just seems to be easier to do things to our children, rather than create opportunities for our children to do. Now I may not have children of my own, but with a few years of experience under my belt, I have come-up with a few basic tips for parents on how to allow their child to try and to do it on their own and here they are:
1. Take a break and count to 5 or 40 or 100.
Whatever it takes, to allow you to take a step back, keep your hands at your side and see what it is that your child is able to do. Even better, see what your child cannot do and watch how he/she tries to accomplish the task. Breathe and watch; and only once you have done that think about ways and opportunities in which you can assist your child to learn and complete the task on his or her own and in their own time.
2. Lower your “adult” expectations.
Is it realistic for your 3-year old to be able to know how to build a 100 piece puzzle, or be able to identify all the colours of the rainbow or even be able to tie their own shoe laces? What are you asking of your child? What are you expecting from your child? Are you creating an environment of perfectionism and expectations that is accompanied with anxiety, or are you creating an environment of opportunity, of growth and of learning through fun? How much would each of us as adults today give, to go back in time and be a child with no worries? I firmly believe that the purest form of God can be seen within a child, the way in which they strive to learn and experience the world around them in its most natural setting. Change your mindset and show your children how trial and error is the greatest liberation of all.
3. Autonomy is key.
What am I trying to teach my child? You see the way in which we interact with our children moulds their thinking and their behaviour. Research has shown that a child that has had the opportunities in their life to experiment, to learn, to try and to make their own decisions within a healthy and safe environment, has an adequate self concept (knowing who they are, their strengths, capabilities, weaknesses etc.) to make beneficial, productive decisions as they enter their adolescence and adulthood. As scary as it may seem now, your child will reach a stage, whereby they will be solely responsible in making decisions. Looking at the pace in which technology is developing and the massive impact that social media has on our lives, the probability of your child being faced with a massive decision could be from the moment they are able to operate a mobile phone. Decisions will always need to be made, the question is, what type of foundation are you providing your child that will aid their autonomy in their future?
The development of a child is so complex, so intricate and so special. If you allow it; if you create a space in which they can try and try and try and try again; a space that is safe and in which they can make their own decisions and develop into their own person, the only expectation that you will need to have, is knowing that your child will be able to do it if you just let them try.