Learning By Doing, Or Doing After Learning…

One question which has always bugged me regarding parenting is ‘how much is enough?’ At what stage, or at what juncture do parents need to stop ‘parenting’ their children and let them figure out things for themselves.

Learning By Doing, Or Doing After Learning - Effects Of Over Parenting

Being a father of a 23 month old girl, this is one question which I ask myself whenever I intervene in anything she is doing, be it something as simple as when she is having a ‘messy meal’ or when she throws a small tantrum insisting upon doing something which is not appropriate like walking on the streets without holding anybody’s hand. At these points I stop, pause for a moment and think, is this where I draw the line and lay down the rules, or do I still give her some leeway and let her figure things out on her own?

While there is a chain of thought which advocates that children learn by doing, ie, just put the food on a plate and let them eat on their own, this is probably the best way they will learn to eat, the fact remains that this particular technique might not work really well in many cases. Take for example, taking the child for a walk.

In today’s day and age, there are no exclusive walking tracks where people are sensitive enough to children and elders walking. Even during walks, people are in a tearing hurry and walk as if they are there to break the walking world record. What’s even worse is that most people are listening to music or peering at their mobile phone screens even while walking. This automatically puts little toddlers in danger of coming in the path of such ‘busy walkers’ and they end up falling, scraping their knees, elbows, etc.

There is this other chain of thought which advocates parents teaching their children things until they develop a certain degree of proficiency in the same, and then letting the children do that particular task on their own. For example, one parent initiates the child to holding a pencil and start doodling on a piece of paper.

For the first few days, the parent sits with the child and ensures that the doodling happens within only the paper and does not extend to the floors, walls or other surfaces. Then gradually the child learns that the pencil is to be used only on the paper and nowhere else, which means that now the parent can be rest assured that no doodling disasters will occur.

I personally am neither a proponent nor a critic of either of these approaches, as I have found that both these approaches work well in different occasions. While the ‘learn by yourself’ approach works well where the dangers involved are less (doodling, coloring, writing, etc), the ‘guided approach’ works well where the dangers involved are a little more (walking on the street, playing in the kitchen, etc).

However, my question still remains, where is it that I draw the line? What are the occasions on which I let R learn things on her own, and when do I intervene and teach her the ‘right’ way to do things? I guess there is no one right or wrong answer to this question and has to be determined on a case to case basis. I would really love to hear how the other parents who, are reading this, grapple with this question and what their suggestions are.

Jairam Mohan is a 33 yr old father, of an almost 2-year-old daughter, settled in Bangalore. He and his wife tend to see the funny side of things in life which helps them maintain sanity in their otherwise crazy and stressful working lives. While his day job involves poring over Excel spreadsheets and preparing Powerpoint presentations, his other hobbies include frequent updation of his blog on varied topics and watching/writing about movies.

  • Yes, there is no right or wrong answer to a situation and has to be determined depending on the context or the temperament of the child. I am glad you say this. As soon as I became a parent, the world around became a bunch of doctors telling me I was doing everything the wrong way, just because I was doing it my way. 🙂 A LOT depends on your child’s natural ability to adjust to new/strange/difficult circumstances. And thus, when that hand has to be left for the toddler to walk on her own in the park, for instance, is a decision each parent makes for his/her child, and rightly so! 🙂

    • @Sakshi, you have no clue as to the team of ‘advisors’ that descended down on my wife and me as soon as lil R was born telling us what to do and what not to do. In the end, both of us settled down to simple common sense and an intuitive reasoning of letting R do things on her own, as long as she didn’t put herself right in the path of danger.

  • True, Jairam. There is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to parenting. The sooner people accept this, the easier things become to get a handle on. For that matter, what worked for one parent may not necessarily work for another. As far as advisors go, they are aplenty. Starting from the doctors to the grandparents and the multiple relatives …. Like the saying goes “Parenting is like helping a child learn to bike. They need support but at the same time the parent needs to let go as well, if the child is to learn”.

  • @Gauri, thanks for your kind words…

    I loved your saying which is so apt. Absolutely spot on, parenting is like helping a child learn to ride a bike. Just the right amount of support is needed.

    And in my opinion, the parents also grow along with their kids. It’s just like reliving their entire childhood all over again, just that we need to completely erase our minds of all our fears, misgivings, and start everything all over again, that’s all.

  • Don’t worry, you will know when it is enough or when you are not giving space to the kiddo…Some things are pure instinct and need no manual…:)

    • @Prasad,
      Both my wife and me are completely relying only on instincts right now 🙂 That being said, thanks for reinforcing our belief in the ‘intuitive’ system of parenting 😀

  • Jairam
    One rule of the thumb, if there is slightest chance of child hurting/ bringing harm to himself/ herself – INTERVENE. Any act left alone that may become a nagging habit later (first time when a child hits parent it is laughed off; very soon the regret sets in). Otherwise, let them learn how world is going to traet them.