When I was a child, I really struggled to do well in school and various pursuits. I tried piano…that did not last long. I was a cheerleader in first grade, but I quit before the end of the season. Studies were pretty tricky for me; I was basically a B/C student. And, I struggled.
I had to work really hard just to maintain Bs with the occasional C. An A was AMAZING to me! I resented the fact that certain things took so much effort for me, but the thing is, because of my difficulty I had to learn how to sit still and focus on learning for long periods of time to really teach my brain to focus.
I developed a skill for studying that to this day remains beneficial to me as an adult. When I reached high school, this studying skill (being able to literally sit at my desk at home for 3-5 hours at a time) made my life so much easier, and from then on A’s were not a problem.
When I became a mom, though, I am sure quite sure what I expected this road to look like. I know now, though. With such a variety of personality types in our house, we get quite a glimpse of the kinds of struggles kids can have, but now I know not to worry in the midst of them.
Struggles are the path to learning and growth, whether we like it or not.
Why It’s Okay for Kids to Struggle, Rather than Have It Easy
One of my daughters has a particular struggle with the idea of “working.” She totally understands “getting an A,” but does not quite grasp that it is something that needs to be worked towards, rather than just delivered.
She is a very bright child, but this is often a disservice to her because for a long time things just came easily to her. It has been, though, a complete disaster in her mind whenever something did not naturally just “come easily.”
For instance, when she was a young girl and I was trying to teach her how to read, she literally would throw fits when she got something wrong. As she has continued on with learning math, the same thing happened. But, as soon as these things suddenly click in her brain, she forgot that she once struggled and needed to work hard with practice to make it stick.
With her early math work she got into the habit of setting a timer to push herself faster to complete her work load. The reason she did this is because she is easily distracted and LOVES to talk, so the motivation of the timer helped to keep her on track.
The problem, though, is that this habit has produced a “get it done” mentality, rather than a “do it well” thought process.
This is not a shocker to me, but this is DEFINITELY the child that has to learn things the “hard” way, so all my good lectures would do nothing to teach her in this regard. This all came to a head with a math test years ago.
My daughter is technically in 3rd grade, but she is well able to handle 4th grade math, so I had her doing Saxon 5/4 this year. It is literally very easy to her overall, BUT there are those little things that she does backwards or incorrectly.
***I want to take a moment right now to clarify, because most of us are so far removed from these pieces of education, to remind you and myself that this post is NOT encouraging pushing a young child to the point of breaking. Use wisdom, mama. If something doesn’t feel right about the amount of work that’s expected of a child, reduce the work without regret!
YOU’RE the mom, not ANYONE else. God gave your children you as their mom for a reason. Trust your intuition, regardless of what naysayers say. Biggest and most important thing is to navigate the tender line of challenging your child while nurturing their hearts. You are the only one who knows their inner-workings best. Seek the Lord for what they truly need, and never ever stop asking for that help from Him.***
One such thing comes up repeatedly, and I remind her to check her work and make sure that she is doing the work in the proper order and in the proper way (this is one of those things that I just LOVE about mathematics…you HAVE to learn how to follow through with the process in order, no cutting corners, or else you greatly risk getting an incorrect answer).
She is totally my corner cutter. If she thinks she can do it better or faster another way, she will break every rule to get it done faster…
So, she ended up failing her test because of simple, foolish mistakes, which in my house means she had to re-do the entire thing. To her, having to re-do something is absolutely the end of the world! I mean, she did not get 100%!!!! God forbid.
After we fought about it a bit (rookie mistake on my end…and GREATLY thankful that I’ve learned boundaries now) and she re-did the test (again failing it for the same kinds of foolish mistakes), I sat down with her to give her some perspective.
Related: When I Embraced Boundaries, I Became the Mom I Always Wanted to Be
I explained to her that the patterns I see for her is that she is working as fast as she can to simply “check a box” and “get it done” but she is not taking the time to make sure that she is doing the work correctly, or well.
This is a character flaw.
I explained that if Daddy was told to complete X assignment by 3 pm at work and he handed in shoddy work, but it was “finished,” he could still get into big trouble (or fired in many jobs). His getting the job “done on time” was not the only assignment, but also doing it well.
I explained to her that it is FAR more important to me that she develop a desire for excellence and not perfection. Her mentality for perfection is evident in the task-oriented nature that drives her, along with her complete emotional breakdown when she does poorly on her work.
Instead of stopping to really understand her mistakes and make sure she does not do them again, she simply and quickly “makes the corrections” only to make the exact same mistake the following day. She understood…and chewed on that idea for a little while.
Now, here we are; years later and she is in the midst of middle school years, starting her own charm-making business, and yeah, she still struggles with these internal processing pressures.
I still have to regularly talk her down and encourage her to take a breath, move slowly, and work with excellence. That’s what being a mom is all about.
But, at this point, her work is excellent, because I taught her for years what excellence looked like.
You see, it’s okay if my kids to struggle a bit, because when things come too easily for them, or when they don’t have to learn to “work hard” to succeed, they lose out on the building of these major character qualities.
I read an article just the other day that really caught my attention, because I’m truly disturbed with the trends I am seeing in our children’s generation (and apparently my generation, too, from what I hear from employers).
We, the parents, have to transition out of the childish thinking patterns that are short-sighted and focused on immediate satisfaction, but rather develop an ability to look forward and determine what traits we want our children to exhibit years from now.
This is called casting a vision.
It did NOT come easily to me in the earliest years of parenting. But, I remembered my own life experience with struggle, sadness, emotional turmoil (with the death of my father), and truly all of the beautiful character-skills these hard points in my youth produced.
I don’t want my kids to get straight A’s simply because school was easy for them. This would disappoint me greatly. I want my kids to get the best scores they can because they have learned to work diligently and persistently to earn them, whether they are A’s or C’s.
My mother was really great in helping me to comprehend this idea when I was a child. She constantly told me throughout the years that what mattered most to her about our report cards was that we did our best. And, I continued that thought process all throughout school.
If I had given it my best and failed, I still could not be too disappointed with myself, because I had tried.
Trying and failing is not the problem, but failing because of a lack of effort is unacceptable.
This is a significant lesson that I strongly believe our children need to learn.
I know that it is not easy to watch. I know that the enemy LOVES to sneak in during those child struggles and suggest that your kid is never going to grow in this, and is never going to learn how to do the problem.
I know it is tempting to want to save your child from the struggle, and rush in as their savior of crisis!
Don’t do it. Restrain yourself. Go and call your sister/mother/friend/husband and yell and scream or do whatever it is to get out the emotions you are feeling, but don’t step in the way of the learning process.
Instead, encourage your child. Hug them hard and tell them how proud your are of them for all their effort. Remind them that the effort matters most, not whether or not they have a perfect result, and to keep working hard to produce excellent work. Help them to learn to step away and take a break from the work to help clear their heads that they may come back and try again.
Teach them the life skills of a responsible adult now so that by the time they are an adult these character traits are set for how they operate naturally.
Speak the encouragement that these struggles will indeed pave the way for glorious blessing down the road, because God has great plans for them in the years ahead, and struggle is innately part of it.
And, then, get out of the way. Let them struggle. Love them through it, but don’t get in the way.
Finally, prepare yourself for the fruit of that struggle, because we wouldn’t have diamonds without a little pressure, we wouldn’t have strong-rooted oak trees without a heavy wind, and we wouldn’t have precious stones without a little friction.
Stand firm in Him.
What About You?
Do you struggle with letting your kids struggle? Does it comes more naturally for you swoop in to ease their difficulties, or to encourage them to persevere and develop their self-control and diligence? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I definitely let mine struggle. Or I let them do some things wrong or not well, and right now they are at an age where they will ask for help. So I wait(most of the time) for them to ask for help. One area I greatly struggle with though is cleaning up. They can do it. But we don’t focus on organizing the toys. We just get it put away. Part of that is me and J not being on the same page with that. During the day they are with me, and at night they’re with daddy. Something to work toward. But typically for other things, if they’ve tried and didn’t do TT correctly or well or to their ability, I make them do it again. This includes speaking respectfully and lovingly, “handing” things to mommy(kiddos struggle with just throwing things in my general direction…I wonder if I do that to them…), and cleaning(if they’ve missed toys when they think they are done, they have to finish it ALL). We are teaching counting now and L has to sit there and get it right before we can move onto the next page in the counting book. For the most part it’s fun, but if she can’t get it after several tries, she gets upset that we can’t go to the next page. Yea…i definitely let my kids struggle.
It is so hard to do what you’re doing, but bravo! I see so many children at the school where I teach whose parents help, enable, coddle, and basically help them cut corners, and all it does is postpone the inevitable (worst case ever this year: 4th grade and can’t pass basic math facts quizzes or add money.)
I try really hard to let Bryce do things himself as best he can at one year old, and I hope I can instill a sense of effort and “try your best” in him.