Guiding children toward accomplishment -- at their own pace

``I'm all dressed,'' my friend's four-year-old proudly announced. He had chosen his own clothes to wear and had put them on by himself. ``You got dressed without my help!'' my friend exclaimed. After glancing in her son's direction, however, she realized they had a slight problem -- his V-necked shirt was on backward and his pants were unbuttoned. With a short explanation, she helped make the change, while placing emphasis on the child's efforts to dress himself.

As parents, we make daily attempts to guide our children's learning, to help out and instruct when necessary -- to ultimately steer children in the direction where they learn to work and function at their highest levels, their full potential. The thoughts below can help parents bring out the best in their children.

Emphasize effort. Whether youngsters are involved in an activity that was self-motivated or doing something suggested by an adult, they do appreciate and benefit from our input. Try to place an emphasis on the child's effort and accomplishment, and not so much on the end result.

While at the park one day, a little boy sat at a picnic table tying two ends of a short rope to the two ends of a twig. When he shared his project with his mother, she might have been thinking, ``Now there's a bow and arrow that will never work,'' but she didn't say that. Instead, she inspected the things and encouraged her son for his efforts. ``You made a bow and arrow with a stick and some string. That was a neat idea!'' The child beamed, and then went on to talk about his homemade project.

Interfere less often. How easy it is for us as parents to jump in and assert ourselves, our opinions, our knowledge, and our experience when children would benefit more by discovering on their own.

Last winter after playing in the snow, our small boys came in the house and each set a snowball on the kitchen table. I rushed over to explain that the snowballs would melt soon, but I caught myself before interrupting when it wasn't necessary. I said nothing, and they were surprised by their own eventual discovery: snowballs melt into water!

Another mother stopped and reconsidered the warnings to her children who were building a sand castle too close to the shoreline. ``Why interrupt them?'' she reasoned. ``Their play is their work. Let them find out that sand castles should be set back. Let them experience the waves crashing over their creation.''

Certainly there are times when parental interference is necessary, but often when we pause first, we find our involvement is not needed -- perhaps it's even an intrusion into children's own playing, working, discovering, and learning process.

Guide children. Guide is an action word, meaning to lead or steer. With children, it can involve keeping them on the right course, showing them direction and giving constructive criticism. One parent observed, ``It isn't an easy task -- guiding and giving criticism without hurting children's feelings.''

That's sometimes true, but if we choose to ignore the areas where our children need improvement and only praise their accomplishments, they might grow up thinking they are seldom in need of setting higher goals and attaining them.

Pointing out areas in which children can improve is all part of the ongoing, guiding commitment parents have in helping children function best at their own level of development.

Last week when our children helped put the laundry away, I found they had wadded things up and tossed them in drawers. Calling them back, I showed them how to fold and stack things neatly.

``How's this?'' they asked after a few moments of refolding.

``Great!'' I exclaimed, winking at them both. I got the impression that even they felt they had done a better job.

When pointers, criticism, and suggestions are given tactfully, they can help our children improve their efforts, their accomplishments, and their end results -- which in turn bring out the best in our children.

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