Thursday, July 30, 2009

Empowering Problems

Crash! The tower of blocks falls over, and the toddler screams in frustration. At this point Mom, Dad, or Teacher has several options for how to respond:

1. Do or say nothing.

2. Be sympathetic, try to console the child. "Don't cry. It's ok."

3. Distract the child. "Come on! Let's go play with the bubbles!"

4. Fix the problem. "Here- let me build it back up for you."

5. Look for ways to empower the child to solve the problem herself. "I wonder why it fell down. Can you figure out how to build it better? I'll watch you work on it."

Which of these methods will result in the most positive long-term outcomes?

I think most of us would agree that number 5 would be more likely to result in the child developing life-long problem-solving skills, and feelings of self-confidence. This is especially true if this type of scenario is repeated many times every day. (And with young children, aren't there always zillions of problems to solve?)

But ask yourself: Which method do you most often use? Why?

It does not necessarily come naturally to all adults to use empowering language with children. For many of us, it is a bit of a "foreign language" which must be learned and rehearsed. Many of us fall very easily and naturally into responding with numbers 1 through 4, especially if we were raised that way ourselves.

Try practicing a little. Experiment by very deliberately using empowering language with a child in one or two situations, and see how it feels. You may find that the pay-off in increased self-esteem for both you and the child is well worth the effort.

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