With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Self-sufficiency. Independence. Healthy self-esteem. These are traits we parents usually want for our children when they grow up. In order to acquire the skills to facilitate the development of these traits, we adults must first be mindful of the ways we unintentionally undermine their development. For example, when we continuously do tasks for them that they can either do or learn to do themselves, we are sending an unconscious message that A: Other people exist to serve them, B: They are incompetent and helpless, and/or C: Other people think that they are incompetent and helpless.
At Talking Stick, individuals are responsible for hanging their jackets, putting away their lunches and cleaning up after themselves. We reinforce these lessons everyday. If a young person comes to an adult asking to open a granola bar wrapper, the adult will usually respond with, “I wonder what’s a way you could open it,” “what have you tried so far?” or “how have people opened it in the past?” Sometimes, we don’t know what we are capable of until we try it but if we are used to other people doing it for us we don’t bother to try it and miss out on an opportunity to feel good about ourselves.
If time and logistics allow it, facilitators work with participants to help them figure out how to accomplish challenging tasks. We do our best to meet them where they are at and facilitate the process of them moving forward. If the challenge is too much, then the result is only frustration and a sense of failure. If we can gauge it just right, it’s wonderful to see someone’s face light up with a sense of accomplishment.
If someone is really upset about not being able to do something, like threading a needle, the facilitator scales back the challenge. Maybe the adult can thread it just a bit and have the young person use their pincer grasp to carefully pull the thread through. Or we provide them with a bigger needle to practice with. Or the adult might do it for them but narrate her process: “Ooo. This looks like a tough one because the hole is so tiny. I notice that the end of the thread is ragged. That won’t help. Would you cut it for me? Thanks. Okay, that’s better. I could wet it . . . “ In this way, they are learning not only about a specific task but also a process to figure out how to achieve it.
Young people want to feel a certain amount of power and responsibility. Not too much so that it is beyond their comfort level, but just enough. Being persistent about them putting the blocks back in their basket when they are done with them so that doing so starts to feel right and not doing so makes them uncomfortable, helps them to develop patterns for later in life. We adults make big messes. Bigger than a pile of blocks. To have the integrity to “clean up” after ourselves would help us with our families, our work, and our own sense of ourselves as responsible and powerful. In Spiderman, Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility”. It’s clear that the reverse is true: taking appropriate levels of responsibility is empowering for children.