Let Her Figure it Out. . .
If your child is trying to put batteries in a flashlight, for example, don’t jump in and show her the “right way” when it appears she’s doing it the wrong way. Why not—there’s only one right way to put batteries in a flashlight, isn’t there? Maybe, maybe not. A more important question is: what’s the hurry? Your child might invent a new way of doing something if you give her the chance.
Consider the following: your child fumbles awhile before aligning the polarity of the batteries and making the light go on. In this case, because she did it herself, she more fully understands the symbols and meaning of the components involved. She’s also more likely to take similar chances in the future because her belief in her own abilities has increased.
Another outcome: in her fumbling, your child invents a new way for batteries to work together. That’s impossible, you say—there’s only one way for batteries to work together. Really? If that’s the approach you take on a regular basis, then your child’s understanding will, at best, level out at your degree of understanding. She may be a “smart cookie,” but that’s only because she repeats what you already know, and that feels good. By contrast, if you allow your child to explore seemingly predictable tasks, then her level of understanding has unlimited potential.
The one approach fosters dependence, whereby your child routinely looks to others for answers. The other fosters independence, whereby your child is comfortable pursuing multiple avenues of problem solving by herself. As your child grows older and tasks become less predictable, and answers become more complex or even unknown (curing cancer for instance), the difference between dependent and independent habits is paramount.
Another outcome: your child works the batteries this way and that until she asks for help. In this case, because your child asked for help, she’s more likely to value and understand your input. She asked for it in the first place, and it directly links to her own efforts. By contrast, if help is imposed—‘here, let me show you how to do that’— then your child is more likely to abandon ownership of the situation and learn nothing, even if it’s explained to her.
Another outcome: your child throws the flashlight down and runs out of the room. Well, big deal. It won’t be the last time, and part of a being a parent is dealing responsibly with your child’s emotional ups and downs. Be sure to remind her from time to time that when she needs help, she can always ask for it. She also might be responding to the feeling that someone’s always hovering over her shoulder, monitoring the results. If that’s the case, remember–it’s enough to simply value the process of creative learning. Turn the process into a matter of routine: a lifestyle. Then go with the flow. The rewards will appear by themselves–you don’t need to be on the lookout for them.