While everyone needs the security of boundaries, everyone also needs challenge and opportunities to grow. Children in particular often struggle to find their individual best challenges, surrounded as they are by adults who frequently try to make such decisions for them. If you have a child who throws tantrums when challenged to earn straight A’s but drives you close to fainting with high-climbing acrobatics, the real problem may be with your own preconceived notions of acceptable and unacceptable challenge.
Don’t Put Down Their Natural Selves
Some children are born to be scholars. Others are born to be astronauts, archaeologists, or firefighters—and, like it or not, you aren’t entitled to decide the direction your own children will tend. Insisting that they follow your preferred path will generate challenge, all right—the challenge to fight back or suppress their own feelings—but that’s the opposite of healthy challenge. At best, you may end up with an outwardly successful but inwardly frustrated adult child, and a painfully cool parent–offspring relationship.
Avoid the Overprotection Trap
Many parents, unable to stand the sight of their “babies” crying in frustration, seek to eliminate challenge from their children’s lives altogether. These are the “helicopter parents” who bar their children from active play because it may generate bruises, and who threaten court cases when a teacher “hurts their child’s self-esteem” by pointing out errors in an assignment. Unfortunately, this approach only breeds codependent and emotionally underdeveloped offspring with no appreciation for hard work or resilience.
Help Them Find the Best Challenges
So if you can’t choose all your children’s challenges for them, what do you do when your adventurous six-year-old tries to climb out on a fifth-floor ledge? Obviously, to stand back and allow it isn’t an option—even if the child and you are already convinced he’s destined to become a construction worker. What you can do is redirect him to age-appropriate challenges that still point in the right direction. For the budding construction worker, this may mean:
- Helping him choose building blocks or other toys to practice his construction skills
- Letting him practice climbing and balancing to his heart’s content—in safe settings such as playgrounds
- Reading children’s stories about construction work—and true stories about childhood experiences of real-life builders
It’s important not to become hysterical when a child oversteps age-appropriate boundaries: that only sows seeds for conflict and future overprotection. Remove the child gently but firmly from truly dangerous situations, and engage him in conversation about his dreams—and what he can do right now to pursue them.
Note to Teachers
Uniform “grade-level” curricula is likely to be stressfully over-challenging for some students, and boringly easy for others. Rather than always giving everyone the identical assignment, look for ways to organize the syllabus so everyone can advance at their own best speed. But be careful not to imply “slower groups” or “higher levels”—variations in learning speed or ability are never indicative of overall competence.
LEARNING THROUGH CHALLENGE
Shady Oak Primary School is the ideal learning environment for children who don’t take well to the classic “input and repetition” model. Our teaching approach focuses on creativity and on finding opportunities for individuals to develop their natural skills: active participation is the backbone of every class. Contact us to learn more.
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!