The Best Kind of Helping…

For many years now, I’ve asked “what does helping look like?”  Sometimes I even wonder “when does helping do more harm than good?” or  “What are the boundaries around helping?”  Then I spent Saturday morning with my two year old…

G and I started out the morning by doing some writing together.  I had coffee, she had some milk.  She was working on her journal, as I worked on mine.  

In her exuberance, G wanted to use some new farm stickers in her work.  So, she asked, “Mom, open with scissors?”  Of course, we both know that she is not quite ready for the long, sharp scissors from the mason jar on the table.  I cut the stickers open and handed them back. 

Then she proceeded with the fine motor activity of parting the cellophane wrapper and pulling out the cellophane sheet with stickers.  I paused to consider, mindful of her efforts.  She looked up at me.

I asked, “Do you need help?”  She nodded.  I rubbed the cellophane wrapper open and handed it back.  Allowing her to struggle a bit more trying to grab the interior sheet.

At any point I could have easily done it for her.  But, while more challenging, I knew she could do it herself.  I only intervened to support just in time.

Then I cued, “Use your other hand to pull from the bottom.”  She did.  Finally, after a bit of effort and focused struggle, she got the stickers out.  “HURRAY!” she cheered.  The farm animals were free!

When we went to make the pancakes, she got her own step stool, climbed up next to mom, dropped the measuring cups full of flour and milk into the bowl, and stirred.  She tried to crack the egg and drop it in, but we definitely need to work that.  Of course, I know she is definitely not ready for a hot stove top with a griddle.

Parenting and teaching.  Teaching and parenting.  Helping just a bit where needed, leaving tasks too difficult for her age for later, and aware of exactly what we can work on next.

I think helping, whether you are a parent, teacher or humanitarian, in its ideal form is just in time, just the right amount.  In fact, I honestly believe we should never do for someone what they can do for themselves.  The best kind of helping is just exactly what’s needed at just the right time. The feedback or teaching or support is more than scaffolding for the whole group, it is personalized for the learner, relational, and empowering!

The U.S. Department of Education has a report on the need for students to develop grit, tenacity, and perseverance as soft skills required in the 21st Century.  The report calls on schools to present ‘optimally challenging’ goals that are of interest to the student.  Think, “cracking eggs at mama’s side making pancakes.”  Certainly, we can support children to foster these traits, helping them achieve long-term, higher order goals!  

While I’m sure I’m not doing this perfectly, I’m compelled to ask myself, “What am I doing for my children that they could do themselves?”  I am wondering the same thing in my work.  At every stage, we can thoughtfully consider our choices and the ways in which we support in order to #LearnForward.