Pretty much every child goes through the “all-by-myself” phase. Depending on the age of the child during the phase, they can also term it “self” or “self-do-it”. For some kids, it is a quickly passing phase, and they soon go back to their usual “I can’t do it” attitude, where they want you to do every single thing for them. The other kids, though, remain in this stage pretty much permanently, as it is part of their nature.
At times it can be exasperating: your two-year-old son wants to button his nice shirt “all by myself” when you are already late for a dinner engagement. It is easy to usher them along and quickly button their shirt, saying something like, “I can do it more quickly. Don’t worry; you can do it next time.” Or even (let’s hope not), “You’re taking so long! Can’t you go any faster?” For a child who is entering the stage of trying to figure out things, solve problems and find solutions, a reaction such as the above can hurt a child’s desire to try and find solutions or work things out for themselves. At that age, anything is possible, and it is our reactions that determine whether this can-do attitude remains or it degrades into a can’t-do frame of mind.
I have noticed it is sometimes the oldest who has more of a “I can’t do it” mindset. However, younger children need to see their older sibling (or siblings) accomplishing and succeeding; then they see it can be done. What is more, their reaction is often, “I want to do it too!”
Helping your child (and importantly, your oldest child, if you have more than one) build a positive attitude about their abilities will build confidence not only for that child, but the younger one/s to follow.
Case in point, I am the fifth of the six “kids” in my family. When I observed my older sisters or brother mastering a skill or undertaking a new challenge, I wanted to do it too. When my brother began to memorize his times tables, I started to do it as well, even though I was not yet officially “learning” it in my schoolbooks. When my sisters took typing in high school, I pulled out my mom’s typing book (from the ‘70s) and used her archaic typewriter (as in, you make a mistake, you pull out whiteout to fix it) and began to teach myself touch typing.
I recently noticed something: though I am grown now, it is still my nature. When I see someone doing something interesting, or something I don’t know how to do, the two-year-old inside me says, “self do it” and I find myself a tutorial or simply jump in and begin to figure it out. From computer skills to graphic design, from photography to writing, from teaching to cooking—my range of interests run wide and I love to master new skills.
Back to your two-year-old who is still working on his buttons. Stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and then cheer him on. You have a wonder child in the making; or didn’t he tell you yet?—nothing is impossible.
By mid-afternoon, however, his fever returned with a vengeance and he didn’t want me to leave his side. I was trying to figure out how to make dinner before the two older kids and my husband went for our mid-week Bible study.
My older son, Allen, came into the darkened room. “Does Aiden need anything?” he asked.
Aiden was resting halfway on my lap and it was all I could do to sit still, thinking of everything that needed to get done.
“No thanks, Allen,” I answered, attempting to move out from under my feverish son.
“Don’t go anywhere, mommy.” His hot hand held on to mine.
So much for that.
I called Allen back into the room. “Actually, there is something you can do.” Even in the darkness, I saw his face light up.
“Can you peel and wash a few potatoes for dinner?” I told him where to find them and the potato peeler.
By the time Aiden had fallen asleep enough for me to slip out of the room, Allen had peeled and washed the potatoes.
“Can I do anything else?” He was almost jumping up and down.
“Do you want to cut them too?”
“Sure!” We worked side by side until Aiden woke up again, calling for me.
While I was back in the room, Allen washed and cut a plate full of celery sticks.
After dinner was finished, Allen hovered around the room, keeping an eye on Aiden. He ran to get him water, got a damp cloth to cool his forehead, and brought one stuffed animal after another.
“It’s such a quiet evening, mommy,” Allen told me, “without Aiden talking.”
I thought about a typical evening, with Allen starting some activity and his little brother commandeering it – wanting to play with his cars or his Legos or draw on his art board. Usually, anything that Allen wants to do, Aiden is right in there, often taking charge in his not-always-so-gallant manner.
And this evening, when Allen could be playing in peace to his little heart’s content, he’s hovering around his little brother like a hummingbird.
I remember when I was young, my mom often quoting a verse to us six not-always-so-loving siblings: “Let brotherly love continue.”
Now that I’m a mom, all I can say is, “Amen, pass the potatoes.”