Recently I had a six-year-old come for a trial lesson and noticed when it came to writing his name, he looked at his mother for the answers. When the answers did not come from her, he kept asking. Mom says he always does this.
What’s going on here?
Is he afraid of making a mistake?
Does he not trust in his own abilities?
Is there some over-depending on mom happening?
A combination of all the above?
In the 20+ years of working with Japanese children, I’ve seen this pattern many times. It’s normal and children out grow it over time.
If you see this pattern in your child, please don’t ever make them “wrong” for behaving this way… even if it’s annoying. Don’t make a child bad when it’s actually the behavior that needs to be addressed.
A child and their behavior are two separate things. I need to write in detail about this point later because it’s super important for developing healthy self-esteem, in children.
With this particular child, I knew he could write his name, so it had to be a fear of making a mistake and an over dependence on mommy that was driving the behavior.
This child needs to know making mistakes is perfectly fine, a part of life and one of the best ways to learn. How I teach this is to teach the phrase “I don’t know” and be very funny and silly in my demonstration. Usually, the look on the child’s face projects a sense of relief.
In Japan, cultural rules are very strict and one should be super careful when following them. This is fine and to an extreme, it makes small children very nervous and afraid to make mistakes.
Sometimes when I meet a child that is overly afraid of making mistakes, I intentionally poor my drink on the floor but it looks like I accidentally did it, then I start to laugh and clean it up. I am teaching in this case, that making mistakes is a part of life and it’s perfectly normal.
SIDENOTE: Talking to small children is not as effective as showing them. They learn best by modeling what they see, not what they hear.
Children that are afraid of making mistakes have a hard time making decisions. To train them out of this pattern, give them two choices. For example, would you like to do your homework before or after dinner? Would you like cold or warm tea? Making small and safe choices will strengthen their decision making muscle.
Humans tend to take the road of least resistance. If a child can just tell mommy to give them the answer or whatever, they will keep using this strategy, i.e., take the easy road. It may be fast and easy but it does not help the child develop and it’s very taxing on mommy. I’ve met many families stuck in this pattern. For some, it seems to be a vehicle for demonstrating love but soon the love turns into resentment.
One of our goals as parents and teachers is to promote independence as soon as possible. My style of interacting with children cultivates independence.