When we see our kids struggling to do an independent task, it can be difficult to watch as they are frustrated and it’s a challenge to resist helping them.  We want our kids to succeed but how can we foster resilience and independence in everyday situations?


The shoelace dilemma:

What should we do if our able 7-year-old child puts out their foot with untied shoelaces for us to ‘fix’ when it’s clear that they haven’t attempted to tie their shoes independently? If we are running out to door to get our kids to school on time, it’s tempting to do it quickly but are we helping our kids if we intervene too soon? Consider tweaking the morning routine to alleviate the rush and the need for our kids to rely on us too readily. I’ve seen kids pop their shoelaces into the sides of their shoes as an easy solution. Ingenuity? Maybe. Complacency or, apathy about being independent? You decide.


Which is sweeter?

We guide our kids as they learn new skills. Tying shoelaces is a classic example. It’s a step by step process and eventually, we hope that our kids master the art of shoe-tying and beam up at us in satisfaction after they do it themselves. It’s wonderful to celebrate their success. Let’s consider, do we want our kids to strive to win and be reliant on our instant reinforcement and gratification or is it a sweeter and more powerful experience if our kids learn through challenges by developing tenacity, self-belief, resilience and perseverance?

I have had kids ask me to tie their shoelaces for them (when I know they can do it themselves.) I’ve asked quietly if they knew how to do it or if they were ‘just in a hurry.’ It’s a way of ascertaining if they can or whether they are opting for the easy way out. If they admit to not knowing how, it’s their family’s job to teach them, but first it’s important to explain why they should learn to learn to do so, in the first place. I’ve asked kids to stop and help themselves to stay safe as they run about the yard, explaining that a trailing shoelace is a dangerous tripping hazard. Giving kids a practical reason for doing it or, the ‘why’ is the first step to getting our kids to step up to act independently.


After a child gives a ‘Red-Hot Go’:

Once you see that a child has had a real attempt or, ‘A Red-Hot Go’ to help themselves, try reinforcing the independent effort by asking, in passing, a few of the following questions:

  • How did you do that? That was a good idea!
  • What was difficult?
  • What were your thoughts before you started?
  • Was there an easy part?
  • Would you do it the same way next time? Why?
  • What questions did you have at school today? What did want to know?
  • Did you ask any questions or did you find out yourself?


Adults don’t know everything!

 Incidentally, involve your kids in your own learning and challenges. It’s powerful modelling if adults verbalize their thoughts when it’s appropriate. Try variations on the following:

  • Wow, I found that difficult! I’m glad that I didn’t give up!
  • I’m not sure what to do here… I’ll try again in a while after I have a think.
  • Did you see how Sam managed to do find a new part-time job it after trying for months? He kept trying.
  • I ran out of time and I feel sad that I didn’t finish. I will start again tomorrow.
  • This is so difficult, I need to spend more time researching the best way.
  • At work today, I was very frustrated. I need to go on a short course to learn the software to do my work but it’s hard to find the time. I’ve been thinking about it and I will ask my boss Mike if I can learn it online. (This could be with a partner/friend in front of your child to model that you share ideas with other adults.)
  • I tried to read this book that Sally gave me but I’m finding it difficult to understand. She loved the story but I’m finding it very confusing. Everyone’s different I suppose!
  • We don’t have enough money to go to out for a restaurant meal and movie this week. We will budget our spending and maybe then we can all go out together in a few weeks.
  • I don’t know what to do, I will take a breath, walk our dog and have a think. Maybe I will figure it out soon, if not I know I tried my best.
  • I am very disappointed with my university assessment. I spent so much time on it. I need to get feedback from my lecturer to learn about what I can do better next time.
  • The train was cancelled this morning so was very late for work. I felt very frustrated but my day did get better!
  • I had a car accident today but I’m happy that nobody was hurt. My car is will be fixed.
  • I remember failing my first driver’s test. My brothers teased me about it. I didn’t give up and was successful a week later. It felt good to work hard.
  • Today just wasn’t my day. I didn’t get the job but I will keep applying.
  • I am surprised that my solution worked. Wow, I really didn’t think it would!
  • Oh, my goodness, I put a cup of salt in the cake recipe instead of sugar- EW! That’s funny!


Keep it real and validate feelings:

As a nice introduction to reinforcing that it’s OK to get things wrong because it can be a learning experience for next time, try asking:

‘Do you think I found everything easy when I was a kid? Some days, it was hard for me too. I remember when…. I don’t know all the answers- even now….’

Validate how your frustrated child might be feeling. Share that even as an adult, you are still learning and sometimes you find challenges tiring and frustrating.  It can help your child to mention that everyone feels tired and upset if things don’t work out the way they would like.


The important thing is to keep trying and fostering the power of self-belief:

Dr Carol Dweck’s research on motivation and learning is often a point of reference when explaining why we should celebrate the effort and learning rather than ability. Dweck’s Ted Talk on The Power of Believing You Can Improve is a great resource.

Dr David Sortino cites Dweck’s research and also advocates that acknowledging effort rather than ability is important to child’s development.

If your child succeeds after trying hard to do an independent task, use the opportunity to celebrate the effort by saying ‘You did it! See, your hard paid off this time. It must feel good!’ It will mean more to them.

Independence and confidence happen when we feel empowered by our efforts. Knowing we can at least make an effort builds us up to face risks and to tackle the next challenge. Hence the centuries-old age; ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained!’


You might also like to read:

The long road to Independence

Is my child ready to walk to school?

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