Noor was sitting at the dining table staring at her textbook. The numbers and symbols on the page had begun to spin and she thought she was forgetting everything she had ever learned. Her father walked by the dining room and was curious what Noor was working on. He peered over her shoulder and said, “Mm fractions,” he said. “Do you know what to do?”
Noor shook her head silently. Her father popped a pistachio in his mouth and sat next to her. “If you reduce the fractions then it will be easier to divide them.” Noor breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. She was so relieved to finally feel unblocked. She reduced the fractions and then began the next step on her own. Her father stopped her, told her to do it slowly and walked through every step with her in detail.
Across town, Ashwin was getting ready to join is mother for their nightly walk with the dog. As his mother gathered the leash and her jack, Ashwin sat on the front step and tried to put on his shoes. For a couple of years he’s been able to slip his feet in unassisted but for the last several days he wanted to try and tie them himself.
He had seen his mother do it a thousand times and she made it look so easy. Why couldn’t he get it today? His mother stepped outside and saw Ashwin trying so she stayed quiet for a minute. When he wasn’t getting it, he looked up at her with inquisitive eyes.
“Remember the rabbit ears?” she prompted. Suddenly, his face lit up. He remembered the next few steps and was very excited as he slowly tied his shoes. They weren’t very tightly tied but when he was done, he was so proud of himself!
Both parents were invested helping their child succeed. Can you tell the difference of the two methods of help both parents provided?
Ashwin’s mother used a very useful and developmentally important parenting tool called scaffolding whereas Noor’s father did not. Scaffolding has three basic principles:
1. Model out loud. Parents who are trying to teach their child a skill should model it themselves while talking out loud as they do it. The reason Ashwin remembered what the “bunny ears” meant was because every time his mother would tie his shoes she would explain each step. This helps children internalize the steps required for the task so when they are alone they can your explanations can act as anchor points to guide their behavior.
2. Wait to be needed. Parents who scaffold do not jump in the minute they see their child struggling. They wait to allow their child time to solve the problem on their own or to at least identify their blocker. When the child asks for help either through a look or even verbally, the parent steps in at that time.
3. Provide what’s necessary. When the parent provides assistance, they only give what is absolutely necessary to get the child to the next step. It is simply a booster so that the child can go over one hurdle but try the rest themselves until the next hurdle comes up.
Scaffolding is extremely important because it increases a child’s self-esteem, a crucial skill to develop as they grow. A child with high self-esteem is less likely to feel overwhelmed by obstacles, is more likely to think creatively in identifying solutions and is very likely to address problems head on with confidence as opposed to avoiding them.
Children whose parents scaffold are also more likely to ask for help when needed. Parents, like Noor’s father, who hover and are overly involved in every step, tend to have children who feel smothered and thus push their parents away. When they need help, they are more likely to not ask for fear of being smothered again. In addition, these children tend to have lower self-esteem because they view their parents’ hovering as a sign that their parents don’t think they can do anything on their own.
Also, these children don’t learn how to problem solve on their own. As they mature, they are less confident and less assertive in finding solutions, instead tending toward avoiding problems. They also are more likely to be dependent on others to help them navigate complex situations rather than being independent.
To help your child succeed at any age, try the scaffolding technique and see how they respond. It may take longer to find a solution or for your child to complete the task but in the long run you will be teaching them an invaluable lesson.
What do you think about scaffolding?