Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why I'll Think Twice Before Saying "It's Easy" to a Child

It's easy.
Or,
See, wasn't that easy?

How many times have I uttered those words?  Probably more than I realize because honestly, I never gave much thought to what I was actually saying.   Most likely I intended the words to be encouraging.  Now, I'm not so sure that they are.

Last week, my younger son Jack was testing for his new belt rank in martial arts.  For the test, the kids had to do a stick pattern called "windmill."  It was similar to another pattern they had previously learned, but just different enough to be confusing to his young mind.  It was beyond confusing to my not-so-young mind.  I watched intently in class so that I might help Jack practice at home, but I just couldn't get it.  Neither could he. 

We had two days to practice before the test.  But how do you practice something you don't know how to do?  We had an idea of what it was supposed to look like but lacked all the intricate details.  I instructed my boys to practice the best they could anyway.  Needless to say, Jack wasn't thrilled and did his best to whine his way out of it.  At his brother Jared's urging, however, he stuck with it.  He kept getting stuck at one particular point.  One of his sticks must have been in the wrong position because every time he did the second move he ended up hitting himself.  We were all pretty certain that wasn't supposed to happen.  Finally, Jack dashed downstairs to tell me he and his brother had figured it out and commanded me to come back upstairs and watch him.  Sure enough, he was no longer his own worst enemy.  We were making progress!

The day of the test came much too quickly.  The first part of class was spent reviewing, and Jack's instructor worked with him on his windmill.  Jack was still having trouble, but slowly began to get the hang of it.  That's when his instructor said to him, "It's easy,"  words that I have said myself numerous times, but this time, hearing them spoken by someone else, and directed to my child, they stopped me cold.

It's easy.

Only, it wasn't.

As Jack's mother, I had seen him try and try again and just not be able to get the hang of it.  It was decidedly NOT easy.  I couldn't help but think, what message do we send a child who has struggled to grasp a skill or concept when we say that it is easy?  If it's easy, then the kid must be pretty stupid to not have gotten it sooner, right?  I know that that is not what Jack's instructor meant, and I don't even think Jack took it that way.  I know I have certainly never meant it that way.  But that was the unspoken message I sensed lurking beneath those innocuous words. 

Sure, it is easy when you've done it a million times.  Just like fractions and long division and inferring and writing complete sentences are easy for me.  (Yes, I realize I do not always write in complete sentences!)  Perhaps the problem is that we have so much experience that we have forgotten what it is like to know nothing and to be learning something for the first time.  It seems to me, though, that when we say something that a child has struggled with is easy, we diminish their hard work and perseverance.  They then become words of discouragement rather than the words of encouragement we intend them to be.

The next time I witness one of those miraculous moments when a child begins to understand what once was confusing, I won't diminish the accomplishment by saying, "See, wasn't that easy?" which I  know very well it wasn't. Instead I will say something like, "See, all your hard work paid off," and thereby acknowledge that I know what that child has done wasn't easy, but I also know that they are capable of learning difficult and challenging things.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! That made me think. It's like telling a kid how smart they are and then when they struggle they can't believe it.

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