Yesterday my eight-year-old was making a smoothie. He’s been making one every day for the last week and now takes pride in his “smoothie-making mastery.” These repeated experiences, along with the delicious products of his efforts, have made him confident in his ability, and the science of neural plasticity confirms his due confidence. The brain changes – yes, actually physically changes – from repeated experiences, so his memory has now been wired for how to make a good smoothie. And yet, even though I know this, when I hear the blender going longer than what I think is the right amount of time – twenty seconds can be a very long time, by the way – my reaction is to step in and say, “Luke, that’s probably long enough. Should you turn it off?”
He says, “Mom, I know what I’m doing. I like it really smooth and creamy, and the trick is to let it blend a little longer so the ice isn’t as chunky.”
Then I have to respond, “You’re right. I’m sorry to mess with the Smoothie Master.”
We learn best from doing. But ask yourself: Do you step in and help when your kids don’t need help? When they ask for assistance, could still do it themselves? How often do you request that they do something your way, when the way they’re doing it is fine (just different)? Do you do things for them that they could do for themselves? You probably do at times when you don’t even realize it, just like I did yesterday with my smoothie intrusiveness.
Sometimes we need to lend a hand because we’re on a schedule and we need them to finish something so we can get out the door quickly and peacefully. Sometimes we need to assist because our child is getting too frustrated and they need help. Sometimes we should step in because they need to learn the right way to do something – like when they need to learn that “flushing doesn’t actually CLEAN the toilet. You need to use actual cleaning supplies.”
But sometimes we’re stepping in because it makes things easier on us or them. And of course that’s a good reason at times, but not all the time. Sometimes we are taking over because we’re being too particular or controlling, or we underestimate them and their ability to do something or handle the struggle and frustration of working through it. Just be thoughtful about why and when to butt in, to rescue, to assist. They know what they’re doing lots of times. In those moments, the problem can be that we don’t know what we’re doing.