Trusting in Your Child’s Competence

Building off of respect and authenticity, the next piece of the RIE® method is trust. More specifically, it is trust in our children’s competence.

Staring from birth, RIE asks us to trust our infant as  “an initiator, to be an explorer eager to learn what he is ready for.”

When my daughter was born, this didn’t feel intuitive or even natural. I was operating under the belief that it was my job as the parent to teach, show and do. To rescue my baby at the slightest hint of struggle. Over-helping and over-doing made ME feel like I was adding value and making her life better.

But what I didn’t realize at the time was that by doing things for her, even as simple as passing her a toy she was reaching for, I was taking away the opportunity for her to learn and figure it out on her own.

It all seemed so innocent and with great intention but the deeper I got into RIE® and the more comfortable I became with doing less, the more realized I was robbing her of joy.

The joy of learning, of figuring something out on her own, of the deep satisfaction that comes with success, plus problem solving skills, the ability to overcome difficulty and the incredible and necessary habit of self-reliance.

More times than I want to admit, I have showed her how something works or encouraged her to do something the “right” way instead of giving her total control and ownership of her choices. I unknowingly was stomping on her creativity and imagination while asking her to conform to my way of thinking.

Now I know better. Though if asked months ago if I trusted my baby my answer would have been a resounding YES but my actions didn’t reflect that conviction. Now I understand that I don’t have to help or save my child when she’s confronted with a challenge or any amount of friction. And if I do offer assistance, it is just enough so that she can still discover the mastery of her own actions. Sometimes that means moving in closer, acknowledging her feelings, offering a gentle spot, making eye contact or giving a verbal cue. I try REALLY hard not to solve the problem or show her “the way,” even if at times I desperately want to.

But I am committed to respecting her need, and all children’s need, to learn independently with patience and persistence and to have a healthy relationship to struggle. In these little, seeming trivial moments, she is learning how to learn by her own faculties and on her own accord, unbiased and untainted by my older and quite frankly, more narrow and boring viewpoint. Her imagination runs wilds and free and I certainly don’t want to squander that.

Trusting in my child’s competence has also meant that I trust her development and growth. That I hold sacred the journey TO the milestone and not the milestone itself. I am more mindful not to fall into the trap of feeling less than if my baby isn’t walking or talking by a certain time or by society’s standards and instead pay attention to the joy my child experiences as she takes learns and grows according to her own rhythm.

Luckily, we live in a world where our life span is increasing and yet we push our kids to grow quicker and quicker. We have lost the love and art of letting babies be babies and kids be kids and instead are always rushing them to do things faster, sooner, better. The earliest years go by so fast as it is that there really is no need to push them along at a speed that suits us instead of them. 

Eventually, let’s remember, we all learn to poop on the potty. Does it really matter if it’s 12 months or 24 months? No one asks on a job interview when we started reading or at what age we walked because in a way, it’s irrelevant. Typically speaking, we all get there ideally when we are ready and not when we are forced.

It’s hard to acknowledge but we have lost the capacity to be patient in a world that moves at lightning speed. And it’s so easy, too easy, to compare our kids to our friends’ kids and want ours to be the best and most advanced. (There is nothing quite like the ego of new parents. Who doesn’t want their kid to be a genius?!)

But if we can allow our kids to follow their inner agenda, to trust that babies do what they can do and what they are ready for, if we can take the pressure off of ourselves and the incessant need to teach and show, then maybe, just maybe, we will discover the magic that lies within each kid.

And we can make this whole parenting thing a lot more enjoyable.

Let’s make a conscious effort to value what our kids CAN do and not expect what they CAN’T do so they are accepted and acknowledged for what they are and not diminished by what they lack.