As an infant, my eldest daughter, Lucy, could have been considered a very confident little baby. Not a lot phased her, she rarely objected to strangers holding her and in play group settings, was very interactive with other babies and seemed happy to explore her environment, paying little attention to where I was. She was never a clingy baby and I always marvelled at her confidence to try new things that, to me, seemed beyond her capabilities. Lucy has always displayed exceptional intelligence and physical ability and has a beautiful heart, but somewhere along the way, my little girl’s confidence has been knocked. No longer is she always such a happy, carefree girl, and although this shift in confidence has been gradual and is peaking just as she approaches the age of two (a tough developmental stage), I can’t help but think that maybe there were some areas of my parenting that in some way contributed to Lucy’s change of nature.
I have decided to break it up into the four areas which I think may not have been ideal for supporting the confidence she was innately born with:
1. Putting her into situations she was not ready for:
I used to have so much fun taking Lucy to the park when she was just a small baby. She seemed to love being pushed in the swing and being slid down the slippery slide. I would also help her climb up large structures by supporting and boosting her up. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that by putting her into situations that she could not get into herself, I was unwittingly conveying the message that her actual abilities were not good enough. Then, it was a little like a perpetual roundabout that was difficult to get off. The more we did this, the more Lucy wanted to do it and the more she would become frustrated when she couldn’t. In a previous post, I spoke about my natural desire to want to see my child achieve her milestones. I would try to aide her rolling by helping her onto her tummy or back when she was clearly trying to do this herself but not quite making it. I believe this may have kick started her ‘frustration squeal’ and perhaps made her question the confidence she had in her own ability to do things herself, as well as maybe making her feel she was inadequate because she couldn’t do it. After helping her do something before she had the muscular control to do it herself, she would always want to keep doing it. Her screams of frustration would increase until I would come and assist her again. The same happened when she was thinking about crawling. On hands and knees, I would gently guide her hand forward, followed by her knee to show her the motions. It wasn’t long before she realised that she couldn’t crawl herself and needed me to help her – the screams continued. Then came the walking and so on. To her, it seemed that what she was capable of doing in the here and now was never good enough and my pushing her into things she wasn’t ready for was only fuelling this thought.
2. Playing too well with her:
When Lucy was younger, I loved playing with her. It was like I was reliving my own childhood. I loved to build her towers that she could knock down and then help her to build her own. When we played with play dough, I would be right beside her playing too. I would make lovely shapes and figures and tell stories with them whilst Lucy looked on with her big ball of mushed play dough. When she would colour with her pencils, I would enjoy colouring in myself, being sure to stay neatly inside the lines. Little did I realise that by engaging with Lucy’s play in this way I was undermining her confidence. She would see what I was doing and when she realised she could not do it as well as I could, she would give up. In hindsight, she communicated this to me well before she could speak. If she was building blocks beside me and was having trouble stacking more than three blocks, whilst I was easily building a great tower she would aggressively knock both hers and mine over with a yell of frustration and move onto something else. Her reaction with the playdough was very similar and when we would colour, if she stopped to look up at mine, she would see how neat it was and then quickly scribble over the top of it and tear her own page or throw her book on the ground. She knew there was no way she could complete the tasks to the standard she thought she had to, so she would vent her frustration and then destroy my creations, maybe trying to tell me I was expecting too much. I was teaching her how to do things properly but I hadn’t realised that, in a child’s eyes, there is no such thing as properly until you show them there is.
3. Helping too much when frustrations set in:
It is so instinctive to want to jump to the rescue of a child who is crying out for help. It is an easy fix. You solve whatever problem is ailing them and then they’re happy, you’re happy because they’re happy and everyone can go on happily playing. Problem is, when you do this, you are giving them the message that they can’t do it on their own. Therefore, when the same or a similar situation arises, the child will continue to cry out for help, lacking their own confidence to work it out for themselves. When I think about it, I helped Lucy from early on by handing her the toy she was reaching for, just out of her reach. As she grew older I helped her with puzzles, shape sorters and other toys that required problem solving. I would unhook her pram when it got stuck on something as she pushed it and turn her posting cards around the right way for her so she could post them into the box easily. I thought I was helping her through her struggles; I was showing her how to do things so she would quickly learn and not have to struggle anymore. Problem was, she wasn’t given the opportunity to work things out for herself and by helping her through her frustrations, I was conveying a message that she was incapable of doing it on her own.
4. Providing her with too many electronic toys:
Complex in their design but simple in their operation, electronic toys gave Lucy a false sense of her ability. With many of her electronic toys, she could simply press a button or pull a handle and something amazing would happen. It was so easy for her that when given an inert toy that did not have a button to push or lever to pull, she had unrealistic expectations of what should happen with these toys. When she could not get something to perform for her easily, she would give up and may have even questioned her ability to work it. She had little perseverance for problem solving type toys perhaps because she believed that she was unable to do them.
Following RIE philosophies, I am now in the process of building Lucy’s confidence back up to where it should be. As I undertake this task, I am mindful that this is not a quick fix and will take a great deal of dedication, patience and reassurance. I now refrain from my own desires to play with my child and when I do, I am always careful to allow her to guide the play and tell me what to do, rather than the other way around. Electronic toys are a thing of the past and she is now able to engage in skill building, problem solving and open ended toys for longer periods of time. If she cannot climb it, jump it, get into it or on it then she doesn’t get any assistance from me other than gentle support with comments like ‘I can see you’re trying really hard. It’s difficult to climb over that climbing frame. If you’d like to keep trying I will stay right beside you for support’. By substituting the old methods for these new ones, I am slowly starting to see a change in the spirit of my little girl and I hope Lucy will go on to climb mountains, full of confidence that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to in life.
One more story to tell… just the other day, long after I had made all of the above realisations, I had had a rather disorganised day and found myself in the kitchen cooking dinner with very little time before I knew the hunger pains would be setting in for the children. I had decided that rissoles would be a quick easy dinner. I threw all the ingredients in a bowl and that was as far as I got before Lucy climbed up onto the bench stool looking for food. I did not want to give her a snack as I knew dinner was so close so I decided to engage her services in preparing the rissoles with me. It started off beautifully. We both put our hands in the wonderfully gooey mince, egg, bread crumb, sauce, herb and grated carrot mixture and squished it between our fingers and through our hands until it was all mixed in. Then we needed to form the rissole patties. I got us both a plate and we started forming them. I made a perfectly round rissole, flattened it slightly then lay it on my plate. I got some more mixture and repeated the process, each time lying the rissole neatly on the plate next to the previous one. In the meantime, Lucy was doing the same, except after rolling it in her tiny hands and then flattening it onto the plate, her rissoles were nothing like my perfectly formed patties. I thought little of it and encouraged her with comments like ‘that’s it, you did it! Thank you for helping.’ She looked so proud of herself; however, when she glanced up at one stage and saw that her rissoles looked nothing like mine, her smile evaporated and she immediately took both her hands and squished up her plate of rissoles before starting on mine. I had unwittingly re-enacted our earlier play dough play dates with a simple household task that I thought she would enjoy. Quickly realising this, I took a step back and said ‘Oh, wow, you didn’t like my rissoles. Would you like to design our rissoles tonight? I can see that you have some other ideas for how they could look. Lets try some of yours.’ Sceptical, at first, eventually she dove back into the mince mixture and continued to make her rissoles her way whilst I watched and prepared some other vegetables. Funnily enough, they still tasted the same once they were cooked and Lucy had the pride of being able to tell her Daddy that she had made the rissoles.