Children Need Challenges
Lessons of Life © Kosjenka Muk
When working with people we notice that people from problematic, chaotic families quite often develop very early or strongly important life resources: intelligence (in order to understand confusing situations and to find way out of such situations), perseverance, inner strength, ability to cope with difficulties, sensibility, empathy, sense of humor (as a way of relieving one’s own and other people’s negative emotions, or as a strategy of finding one’s place within a group). Likewise, we frequently notice that children who grow up in families that give them everything grow up into average and often not particularly strong and confident people. Sometimes they can become egotistic and spoiled people, as it can be seen especially in the last several decades.
Of course, this is not a rule, but it happens a lot. Every family is a complex whole, and the child’s experiences are multidimensional. There are no mathematical criteria according to which all influences and their consequences for the child could be organized. Likewise, the same influences can cause several different consequences, of which some are unpleasant, and some are useful and important: chaos and traumas can trigger the development of the above mentioned resources and positive features, but at the same time create lasting fear, anger, guilt and a negative impression about oneself.
Parental care and protection can create a feeling that we are worthy and acceptable, but also average or below average abilities, motivation and self-confidence on the other hand (in case of over-protection or lack of challenges). As in case of most individual and global life circumstances, consequences are never black and white, but always a combination of the “positive” and “negative”.
Many people who were strongly protected by their parents mention that this very protection made them insecure in themselves and their strength, since they never had a chance to experience whether they were able to cope with the problems and unpleasant situations, nor to practice resourcefulness and creativity. On the other hand nobody would like to be in the shoes of those who suffered neglect, abuse or who were ridiculed, and these people know so well that they had to pay a high price for their inner strength by acquiring some unpleasant patterns.
However, by applying some awareness and effort you can enable your child to “have its cake and eat it”. It is not necessary to expose the child to heavy traumas so that he or she would develop above average resources! What is important is not a strong and frequent unpleasant experience, but significant and frequent challenges. This is what families who protect and take care of their children often lack: they may neglect the child’s need to face challenging situations to stimulate his hidden resources.
You can shape challenges so that they stimulate thinking, perception, sensitivity and strength, while simultaneously giving care and attention to your child. The key lies in giving your child the emotional support, at the same time leaving it to him to complete as many challenging tasks as possible.
It is important to adjust the challenge to the stage of the child’s development as to target approximately the upper limit of her current abilities, just a little exceeding her “zone of comfort”, enough to make it problematic and not easy, but not so difficult for the child to get discouraged and to start doubting herself. Children do it spontaneously, always reaching a little more, always trying to go a little further and better. Observe your child carefully in order to find out if the challenge suits him. If the child is at least partially interested and motivated, you can continue. If you notice that he shows strong sings of stress or fear, maybe it is best to wait a little.
Provide as many different challenges as possible: ranging from the physical ones (dressing, tying shoes, including children in household tasks), intellectual (e.g. buy a book of puzzles or games that require thinking, teach the child to read or to speak a foreign language as early as possible – a two or a three-year old child can slowly get used to recognizing letters, and at the age of four many children are ready to start reading) up to social tasks (solving relationship and communication related problems).
Children Love Games
Try to think them out in form of games as often as possible. Avoid offering ready-made solutions to the child, it is better to help the child come up with solutions by asking sub-questions. Encourage it to create as many solutions as possible, e.g. “Johnny is ridiculed by other children at school. Think about at least 10 different things that Johnny could do about it?” Follow the child’s thinking process about this problem and help him/her with sub-questions such as: “Which negative consequences can you think of? Who other could you include? What is important to know about other people and why are they doing what they are doing? Have you forgotten something? Can some of these solutions be improved?”
Certainly, a lack of time is a problem for many parents. However, you do not have to sit the entire day with your child asking him/her such questions. It is enough to ask several questions while you are doing something else or to take advantage of situations when your child has a real problem. You can use time during lunch breaks at work or the ride back home from work to think about new challenges for your children.
Allow Life to Happen
Let your child occasionally get hurt, scratched or burnt, especially if he/she is ignoring your warnings. This won’t have long term consequences, but the child will learn to better control his movements and decisions and to assess his abilities and the consequences of his actions more accurately. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m advising things like letting the child run out to the highway or drink your nail-polisher. Everything in moderation.
Do not attempt – except very exceptionally – to solve his conflicts with other children instead of him. Children can cope with the unpleasantness of these conflicts – actually, many people go through many more difficult social experiences as children, than as adults – quite successfully, if they have your emotional support and encouragement. However, you can help them to think about these conflicts and their possible solutions.
Avoid trying to make your child’s daily tasks easier. As soon as he/she becomes able to do something – eat, dress up, go to school alone – do not do it instead of him/her except in exceptional cases.
What is important is emotional support and acceptance, avoiding verbal or non-verbal critique, except when it is necessary. Emotional support is the key and foundation for your child’s ability to cope with life. You will make your child’s and your own life easier – the child’s in the long term, and yours both short and long term.
In such a way, by applying extra effort and awareness, you can help children build firm foundations and strong stepping-stones for creating an above-average and high quality life on all levels.