“Give a person a fish and they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime.” –Lao Tzu
A few months ago, I was getting my three-year-old daughter ready for pre-school and doing my usual rushing through my morning.
She came down and sat at the bottom of the stairs while I was clamoring to jam her shoes onto each foot.
With typical toddler spice, she yanked the shoes out of my hand declaring loudly, “Daddy, I can do it myself! Let me do it!”
I realized in that moment I had been doing something for her—for months—that she not only wanted to do herself, but was completely capable of….because I was in a hurry.
I reflect on that moment and wonder how often I sabotage opportunities for growth from my children—or my team members at work—because doing something myself feels like the fastest way to do things.
I have to remind myself that it might feel fast in the short run but is certainly not fast in the long run to have kids that can’t put their shoes on because I don’t want to take a few mornings to let them struggle!
Disclaimer—I am a trained Love & Logic curriculum facilitator, but I only mention their material here by way of indicating that it has been enormously helpful for my wife and I.
A core principle of Love & Logic parenting tools is—confidence comes from struggle.
They suggest that many parents fall into the habit of doing things for their children that children could do themselves, giving them tons of reminders, and rescuing them from the natural consequences of their behavior that could teach them valuable life lessons.
Although I am still a relatively new parent, I have certainly found this to be true in my own parenting journey as I have fumbled through it and made many mistakes.
I recently read an account of Auschwitz survivor and psychologist Edith Eva Eger that really got my attention on this point.
As Eger reflected on her dreadful memories of the concentration camps, she said that spoiled children were the first to die because they kept waiting for others to come save them, and when no one came, they gave up. They were accustomed to too much help. They had not learned the essential life skills of persisting and struggling.
In a similar but less dramatic illustration, Jim Fay the co-founder of the Love & Logic Institute often talks about a time when he moved his job as an elementary school principal from a poor neighborhood to a wealthy one.
When he arrived at his new job in the wealthy school district, he said that he was shocked to see that whenever kids forgot their clothes or lunch or homework, the parents would frequently drive those items to school for their children.
Sounds really nice of those parents right?
But Fay instituted a new school rule that no child could call their parents to bring any forgotten items like this, and he was nearly fired from his job because the community was so angry with him.
How could he be so mean to these kids?
The fuming parents demanded an assembly to discuss his new policy, and he was worried he might lose his new job.
But he started the meeting by talking about how he saw his primary responsibility as shaping these children into responsible adults who would all have a healthy understanding of the laws of cause and effect in the world, adults who would take ownership for making better decisions.
After all, the consequences or price tags for their mistakes were smaller at that age.
No parent argued with him on that goal. And as you might guess, he wasn’t fired from his job.
He wanted the parents to allow their children to struggle with these lessons. If only more schools saw this as their primary responsibility.
In his books, Fay often says that many well-intended parents actually steal opportunities for growth and confidence from their children by trying to help too much.
Another core principle of Love & Logic is kids will come to need as many reminders as they are given.
Yikes! How many times did I remind my kids this week?
Psychologist Charles Fay (the son of Jim Fay) says that reminders actually send a very damaging and unintentional message to kids (or adults for that matter)—you are too stupid to remember this on your own. Reminders can actually harm self-esteem and self-concept.
If I am honest with myself, I can see many times throughout my week.
An alternative to constant reminders is to let the consequence do the teaching.
After all, how many warnings do we get from the CHP when we are speeding down the freeway, or the IRS when our tax bill is overdue?
The real world doesn’t operate that way.
This is an essential message for parents, and leaders.
The psychological drivers that hold these habits in place are powerful forces shaped in childhood that can be difficult to undo.
Take a moment to reflect on the following questions when thinking about your leadership or parenting roles:
Do you love to do things fast and really value efficiency?
Do you feel best about yourself when people need you?
Do you enjoy the spotlight?
Do you hate seeing other people upset?
Do you like to be helpful?
Are you really competitive?
Any of these dynamics could result in over-doing tasks that could potentially be done by others. If you don’t delegate very often or very effectively, that could be another indicator that you have work to do in this area.
It seems like the best way to parent or lead is to create an environment where stretching goals are common, time for struggling is permitted and expected, and lots of support is given.
And high expectations with learning opportunities and support, is a great recipe for building great teams.
Something I aspire to do more of as a leader and parent.
Take action now
- Really reflect on recent times you see yourself doing these things. Awareness is the first step.
- Take some time to consider the psychological drivers for you personally.
- Intentionally resist helping behaviors this week and see what happens. New habits start small.
- Create opportunities for healthy struggle on your team and if you have kids, at home.
- Everyone wants employees and kids that function independently and responsibly so use the mantra as a reminder—confidence comes from struggle.
Have a great weekend!
*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.
Want more? Suggested Resources Below
- Love and Logic Parenting Resources