Thursday, May 19, 2011

Holding the Space

When you are the mother of young children it's very easy to get into the mode where you are just counting the days when your kids can do things on their own. I remember taking my then two year old to the park and being baffled because he wanted to play with me. Seriously? The park was my place to chill out and relax. My goal was to NOT do the baby/child thing. Then I read an article that talked about "holding a space" for children. As children get older they start to do more and more things independently. However it takes a while before they become proficient at it and during that time we adults sometimes need to hold a space for them. Basically this means we have to be physically present even if we are not actively participating. For example, your two or three year old is learning to dress themselves, but they are not at the point where you can walk away and have them do it on their own. You need to be in the room with them while they are dressing. This can be frustrating because a parent may feel like they are wasting time. You are not helping them, in fact, they may adamantly refuse your help with cries of, " I can do it!" You may begin to notice all the other things you can be doing during this time like load the dishwasher, sort the laundry etc.

I urge you to take a deep breath and remember where your priorities lie. Teaching your child life skills ranks among the most important things your child will learn. Holding a space is not a waste of time, it's an important step in the journey your child is making towards independence. You should hold a space whenever your child is mastering a skill. Especially for very young children, showing them once is not enough for them to do it on their own. Think of holding a space as a cheer-leading activity.

To start off you need to show your child what you want done. Remember to be specific. If you just say, "Clean your room" the task becomes overwhelming to a child. Instead ask him to sweep the floor. Show them how to sweep the floor, then let them try. Be patient. Show them again if needed. Stay in the room and offer encouragement and direction. As your child becomes more proficient, offer less direction and encouragement, but stay in the room. The more proficient they become, the less involved you need to be, but you should still be in the room. How long must you hold the space? As long as needed. It will depends on the task, your child's maturity level, his attention span and his physical capabilities.

Some children can do very simple tasks by age four or five. More complicated chores may require your presence until 7 or 8. Keep in mind that even as an adult, it's nice to have someone hold a space for us sometimes. It offers a wonderful sense of support and security.