Parenting: Learning Not To Interfere

Mummy's more precise version

Mummy’s more precise version

I read a great post this evening, on the Miss Fanny P blog, about how hard it is to be good at something and watch your children struggle (either because they’re little or because they don’t have the same natural aptitude).

It struck a chord with me because I’ve always tended towards perfectionism, to the point of not even trying something I suspected I’d never excel at. I abandoned playing the violin – even though I enjoyed it – when it looked like I would fail the next exam (it’s not a good instrument for the tonally challenged).

My daughter has inherited that trait, getting super-frustrated and upset when she can’t do something first time (even if it’s doing somersaults on the trampoline or being able to spell ‘friend’ when she only started reading three months ago).

With craft activities, she likes to follow the instructions exactly (ahem, guilty as charged) and gets cross when it doesn’t look like the picture on the box. Even though I tell her that NOTHING ever looks like the picture (at the same time as trying to make my own creation as perfect as possible) she still throws in the towel and storms off sobbing.

I used to have to literally sit on my hands to stop myself from helping – straightening stickers, tidying up ragged cutting, that kind of thing. I still do, if I’m watching, but we’ve both learned that the most enjoyable way for her to do craft is if I’m busy doing something else.

My Daughter's Creation

My Daughter’s Creation

I remember the first time it happened, nearly a year ago. I’d bought a couple of discounted ‘dress your dolly’ kits, for my son and daughter. Only, when I opened the boxes, my son went into a teary meltdown because he wanted a toy dog instead. So I decided (for my eardrums’ sake) to sew one out of some felt I had in the sewing basket. For the next half an hour I sewed and my daughter decorated her dolly.

Oh my, when I saw the finished doll I nearly cried. But my daughter was sooooooo proud and hubbie, who always says the right thing, said it looked like a Vivienne Westwood creation. I realised then that I was stifling her creativity with my anal need for perfection.

I’d be lying if I said I have never interfered since that day, but I do at least try not to now. If all the paintings end up brown and the glitter ends up all over the floor and I have to nod and smile and say “marvellous” at something hideous, what does it matter? More than 70% of it ends up in the recycling anyway, after a suitable period of time has passed. I’m learning that it’s the process, rather than the end product, that matters. Learning and getting sticky and having fun.

In the comments beneath Miss Fanny P’s post, someone included the quotation:

“Never help a child with a task with which he feels he can succeed.” Maria Montessori

I can apply this advice to so many things (and sometimes do, mostly out of laziness!) I’m still guilty of a bit of surreptitious help, to make an end product ‘work’, like with the headbands we made today. But, hey, old habits die hard!