Childhood Development - Why You Must Teach Children How to Struggle

One of the principles of childhood development that we practice in our family is the importance of teaching our children how to struggle. Unfortunately, most parents don't understand what this means. In their attempts to give their children more than they had, they enable them in such a way that makes it difficult for them to learn that they must strive for what they want. In this article, I'll teach why and how to teach your children to struggle.
Every stage of child development has struggles and developmental tasks that must be overcome in order to progress to the next. For instance, crawling is essential not only as a prelude to walking, but because it develops the brain/body connection in such a way that scientists are just beginning to understand. (Learning disabilities are often found in children who were encouraged to bypass crawling in favor of walking. Pushy, over-enthusiastic parents who have no tolerance for babies can do a lot of damage to their kids.) Progression through developmental stages then, should be determined by the child, rather than the parent. Although it's good to encourage our child's development, it is ill-advised to force.

Essential in a child's ability to move through the stages of childhood development is a sense of trust in the parent. If your child knows that you will help her when she cannot help herself and soothe her when she needs comfort, then she will develop the sense of security necessary to explore her environment with confidence.

Childhood development is a process of unfolding. Each newly acquired skill leads to another. It’s important to respect each step because each progression requires new levels of concentration, coordination, balance and control. Although most of us do not subscribe to our parents theory of sink-or-swim, we must learn to see that some challenges and struggles are inherently healthy for a child.

childhood development

Although a child acquires new skills through a willingness to struggle, take care that the level of difficulty doesn’t exceed the child’s abilities. A child who is constantly frustrated by tasks that exceed her skill level will start to feel that she is incompetent. Obviously, this is not what you want to create.

The value of struggle in childhood development is that it teaches children that patience, determination and practice will pay off. Most important, struggling teaches kids how to struggle, which is necessary component for success in life.

How early in your child's development can you start teaching her to struggle? As soon as she begins to reach for things. If your baby is lying on the floor on her tummy and can lift her head and reach for things, place an object just outside her grasp. Let her strain a bit to get a hold of it. If you just hand it to her, then she won't gain confidence in her ability to get things on her own.

If your child is trying to climb up on the couch, but can’t do it by herself, give her a tiny boost, rather than picking her up and placing her on the couch. Each time she tries, give her less help. Eventually, she’ll learn how to climb up on her own.

If we allow our kids to develop the skills to do things for themselves, then we lay the groundwork for self-accomplishment. Teaching a child the value of struggle early on is essential. Once a child learns how to struggle, they can struggle through anything, including the unforeseen challenges that life presents us with.

It’s difficult to teach the importance of struggle to children who’ve been spoiled because they haven’t learned the value of working toward a goal. Although they may pretend that they can do anything, inside they feel like losers because they haven’t developed the confidence that comes through struggle and accomplishment or knowledge that each new challenge is just another mountain they can climb.

Here are more examples of how to teach your child to struggle with tasks that engage his interest and are appropriate to his level of development.

The other day, I took my boys to the park. To his great delight, my two-year old son, Colt, found a basketball which he pushed against a three-foot, chain link fence. He stood atop the ball, so he could climb over the fence. Some mothers would have scolded him angrily or fearfully, but I stood by, near enough to help him if he needed it, but far enough away to allow him to accomplish this task on his own. After all, he'd created a reasonably safe challenge for himself.

This is the key to assisting childhood development: allow your child to choose his challenges, as long as his safety is not at risk. Colt climbed to the top of the fence, then climbed back down with a giant grin across his face.

As parents, we must provide for and protect our children, but we should balance this by teaching them the value of learning how to struggle because its a crucial skill in terms of human development and success throughout life.

Allow your child the delight in taking those first shaky steps and meeting intriguing challenges head-on. It is their confidence in their ability to do so that will lead them on the winding road toward their dreams.

Laura is the author of the award-winning parenting book, Keepers of the Children.

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