Know When to Hold ‘Em

One day I was at the park.  I saw a group of lovely folks taking 1 child to the park.  It was clearly a set of parents, and their parents, and then one more couple.  So all in all, there were 8 adults for the one kid who was between 1 and 2 years old.

It was a beautiful day.  They all walked over with the toddler to the baby play area, and the toddler decided that she wanted to go down the slide.  She casually walked up the ramp, and sat her butt down at the top of the slide.  She placed her feet in front of her, gave herself a shove, and down the slide she went.  “YAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!” cheered all the adults.  They clapped and delighted in the little girl’s decision to slide to the bottom of the slide.  She sat at the bottom of the slide, looking truly baffled.  Her expression said, “What are they, stupid?  Don’t they know about gravity?”  Eyebrows slightly raised, a dubious expression on her face, she got up and moved to the next thing.  She didn’t do the slide again.

I am pretty sure that as she walked away she said to herself, “My God.  All I have to do is sit down and let gravity do the rest and these people will cheer for me?  I didn’t even do anything.  Weirdos.”

Now, I have read about this concept before.  In a book Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn, there is a portion on weighing in, or offering guidance at inappropriate or unnecessary times in the life of a child.  This, he argues, can be detrimental.

How, we ask?  How can cheering for a kid on the slide be detrimental?  Well, I saw it with my own eyes.  That child at the park was really quite stunned at the reaction she received just for sitting down and allowing gravity to take over.  The cheer ruined it for her and took away her right to experience the slide for herself.  She realized that she was being watched and evaluated on something that she was doing for no other reason than to just do it.  Then all of a sudden the pleasure expressed by those watching became the central event.

I was reminded that day of how many times I may have robbed my children of moments of joy by celebrating victories that never were.

By cheering on anything that they have done for themselves, I have told them that I am evaluating, and that the evaluation matters to me. Zip it, Mom.  Just zip it.

Sometimes cheering shows a vested interest, or indicates that the parent was FAR more vested than the child ever realized.  That could be pretty disconcerting for a child, I think.  That child thought, “Oh, I have pleased you with the slide?  Wow, I thought I was just going down the slide.  What else don’t I know?”

Sometimes, as I keep learning over and over, it’s better to shut the hell up.  Let them slide without commentary.  Kenny Rogers was onto something.  And it doesn’t just apply to cards.

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