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Help your child but don't take over
Creche life

Help your child but don't take over

by Merel MIEDEMA 3 min. 01.10.2022
Often, parents think they are helping their children but they are actually doing it for them, says Merel Miedema
Helping means guiding children through an activity to make them more capable and to strengthen their self-confidence
Helping means guiding children through an activity to make them more capable and to strengthen their self-confidence
Photo credit: Shutterstock

We all need help sometimes and small children probably most of all. When you think about all the growth, development and learning children do in the first few years of their lives, it seems like an almost impossible task. No wonder they need us to help them.

The question, of course, is how we define ‘help’. Most of the time, when my colleagues and I observe parents interacting with their children at the nursery, we see that ‘helping’ becomes ‘doing it for them’. A child asks for help with their shoes and the parents put the shoes on for them.

In our team, helping means guiding a child through an activity, sometimes quite literally. We do this because we want to make children more capable and strengthen their self-confidence: the more often a child manages to achieve a (small) success, the more they are willing to try out and fail and succeed again. You see it in children’s faces when they achieve something all on their own: an almost visible beam of happiness radiating from their face.

Of course, life at nursery is different from at home. At the crèche, we make sure your children are safe and well and developing at their own pace, and we take our time to get ready to go outside to play, get back inside, wash hands and so on. Each activity is important: when we wash our hands, we don’t just think of the objective of getting our hands clean, but we are teaching the children about how to wait their turn, how to climb on a stool to reach the sink, how to roll up their sleeves, how to ask for help, how to make sure the soap reaches the smallest corners, how to rinse everything off properly and then dry up.

So when a child asks for help, we also see helping them as an activity with its own intrinsic value. For example, when a child needs to put shoes on to play outside, we start encouraging them to do as much as they can themselves from the age of two.

But children can only do these things if they know how, and it is easy to forget that all these actions that come naturally to us are a mystery to them. So we explain exactly how to put on a shoe: first, you need to find them. This sounds like an easy step, but children (and some adults, let’s be honest) often have no idea how to search for something. Looking behind and underneath other shoes and even people, remembering which colour your shoes are and where you put them when you took them off, these are all things we help the child with.

I could go into enormous detail about every step involved, but the more we look at the process through the eyes of a child, the more steps and challenges we see.

 It is up to us, the adults, to explain and guide our children through these challenges. We do that by describing how to do something – hold your shoe in your hand, bend your knee and put your toes in first – or by literally guiding a child’s hand and feet with our own hands and feet. The more we do this, the more capable our children become, and the more often we see that wonderful beaming smile of fulfilment on our children’s face. 

Merel Miedema is an early childhood educator in Amsterdam, where she works at one of the city’s oldest independent and green crèches. She writes the Luxembourg Times’ Crèche Life column, published on the website every other Saturday.

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