Let Me Do It – Enhancing Self Help Skills

When our children ask to help, why are we so quick to say no? Sometimes it is a matter of fear that they will hurt themselves. On the other hand, it is much easier or convenient if we do it ourselves. In this blog, we discuss how to enhance a child’s self-help skills, so they can be independent and successful.

Saying “Yes” When Children Offer to Help

A few weeks ago, I was talking to ChildSavers’ CEO, Mr. L. Robert Bolling. He told me about his grandson’s request to assist in preparing pancakes. This meant allowing him to crack eggs into the batter. On first thought, most adults would have said no. However, Robert cheerfully granted the request. Not only did this experience build brain connections and fine motor skills for Robert’s grandson, it also created a wonderful memory.

The other day my five-year-old said, “Mommy, let me do it.” I was threading a needle to sew up a small hole in my husband’s NFL small pillow. With an apprehensive look, I handed him the needle. I asked him not stick himself. To both of our surprise and joy, he completed the task. I just had to tie a knot at the end. I am not sure whether he has watched my mom or me sew before. Despite his lack of experience, he believed he could help me. What would have happened to his confidence level if I had not allowed him to assist me?

Building Neural Connections in the Brain

Kathy Slattengren wrote an article entitled Allowing Your Children Opportunities to Persevere (2015). She states, “When you do a task for [children], you reinforce your own brain connections without adding to theirs.” When children learn something new, their brain makes neural connections. Social interactions enhance the speed and accuracy of learning at all ages. New experiences repeated many times help make new connections. These connections shape the way the child thinks, feels, behaves, and learns, now and in the future.

Experience is the process of building the architecture of the brain. We have the power to introduce and build on new concepts for children. The back and forth of interactions shape the brain synapses. According to Jacquelyn Cafasso from Healthline, “Synapses are brain structures that allows the neurons to transmit an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron.” Lack of stimulation, opportunities to repeat positive experiences, or chances to problem solve weakens synapses. This can cause children’s brains to lose these synapses. This process is called neural pruning. As the old saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”

Learning by Doing

Children learn by doing. As the summer winds down, think about the kinds of requests made by your children or students that you have turned down. Did you miss opportunities for growth? How can you give children more opportunities to help?

I am not saying that every invitation to assist is valid. You can also use this time to think of the opportunities you’ve honored. There should be some thought to their current developmental level. In addition, you should consider their capacity to scaffold learning. Activities such as building sand castles, washing dishes, applying own suntan lotion, children can do safely on their own. They just need your sensible supervision and ample confidence.

Helpful Hints:

  • Offer enough assistance or supervision so that the child can safely complete the task, but not too much that you overtake the task.
  • Instead of doing it for the child when they struggle, offer suggestions: “That puzzle piece is having a hard time fitting. What if you turned it?”
  • Sometimes a task can just be too advanced. You don’t want the child getting too frustrated, but you also don’t want them to think you don’t have confidence in them. Brainstorm where you can find resources. Can a friend help? Ask if you can help just a little? Can you research it and try again?
  • Sometimes you might not have enough time or it just isn’t safe for them to do alone. The child may not be happy about it but explain that you are late and that you will allow the child to return to the task later when you have more time. However, make sure you follow through. Or explain why you are concerned and that we always have to be safe. Is it possible to give the child another choice? Choices are always a great option.


Cybil Faulks-Brown Child Development Services Supervisor – VA Quality Coordinator

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