The Norman Transcript

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June 6, 2014

Children should not have control of the words ‘I can’t’

NORMAN — I recently asked a group of 50 teachers: “Raise your hand if you agree that when a child comes to an adult asking for help with an academic problem, the adult should help.”

Fifty hands went up.

So then I asked, “Now raise your hand if you agree that 80 percent of the time, on average, that a child says he needs help with a problem, he does not truly need help; he has simply reached the limit of his tolerance for frustration and wants someone else to solve the problem for him.”

Fifty hands went up. By the way, I’ve done this same exercise with subsequent groups of teachers, always with the same results, proportionately speaking.

Obviously, it makes no sense that someone would agree to both statements. They are contradictory. The true statement, of course, is the second one.

Therefore, adults should not be quick to help children with problems. Adults should not take children who say things like “I can’t,” “It’s too hard” and “I need help” at their word.

They should gently refuse to help. As in, “I know you can do that. You just need to think about it some more.” Or, “You’ve solved harder problems than this one. Are you feeling lazy today?” Yes, it’s perfectly OK to say even that.

Why do today’s moms feel that raising children is an inherently stressful endeavor? For lots of reasons, one of which is that with rare exception, today’s moms believe that when a child asks his mother for help, his mother should stop what she is doing and help.

The mom of 60-plus years ago was not inclined to help on demand, which is a big reason why moms of that bygone era did not complain to one another that raising children was exhausting.

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