She watched Emma, our 3 1/2-year-old daughter, as she circled her chair at the dining room table and tried a few times to climb up. She made it eventually and then struggled to get her feet out from under her so she could sit comfortably. Deb and I were distracted, talking to our friend. We didn't even notice it.
So often, she said, when a parent sees their child struggling like that, they instinctively will just go and pick them up and plop them down on the chair without thinking. It wasn't our intention at that moment to let her struggle and figure out how to get onto the chair herself, so no gold star for us. It was an accident, but it is such an important lesson.
As parents, we have to try and distinguish, often in real time, between what our kids want and what they need, or what is best for them. That's not easy, especially when whatever they are engaged in is triggering for us.
When our friend shared her observation, she described the beauty in her struggle, of mastering something on her own and how empowering it must feel for a child her age to gain more independence.
We tend to associate struggling with overcoming and not necessarily with the decision to engage in the struggle and the corresponding benefits, irrespective of whether or not we overcome the obstacle.
Next time you're in a situation where you see your child struggling to achieve something, try to take a step back and pause before acting. Pay attention to what your triggers are and think about why that situation is triggering you. This process will benefit your children immensely without ever having to say a single word.