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Sometimes Doing Less is More

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

For those of us who are naturally drawn to helping others, standing by with our mouths shut and not visibly doing anything may seem wrong—not to mention be difficult to accomplish! When teaching our own children or other students, we will experience an overpowering desire to jump in and help them tackle difficult problems. We just don’t want them to get too upset and quit. We believe we know how to provide just enough guidance to help them meet with success without doing the work for them! This is what good teachers/parents do, after all! Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for all children.


Sometimes doing less is actually more helpful! While standing by and doing “nothing” may seem antithetical to helping, some children get more distracted by our words of encouragement or suggestions. Some children sit staring at their paper confused about where to begin; these are the children for whom small suggestions or assistance are helpful. Other children, however, may look like they are staring blankly at their paper, but they actually have all of the wheels in their head busily turning. They are parsing bits of information and trying to solve the problem. If we question these children, make a suggestion, or mark something on their paper, we are interrupting their intricate thought process. They may lash out—verbally or physically—in frustration because we have destroyed their problem-solving process. These types of children are best supported by us simply standing by and being “on call” for when they need assistance or clarification. It may feel like we are doing nothing, when in actual fact, we are being more supportive: less is more!


Treating children (or adults) equally is not necessarily equitable. We all learn and process things differently and so cannot be treated the same way for the purposes of achieving a positive result. Thus, teaching each child based on her needs is actually more fair, or equitable, than teaching each child using the same method. A similar way to think about this dichotomy in teaching children is to look at the difference between introverts and extroverts. Contrary to popular opinion, one is not more outgoing or friendly than the other; rather, the difference comes in how each type of person re-energizes herself. After a stressful day at work or school the introvert will need some time alone to recharge her battery; however, the extrovert will be seeking out bars or other highly stimulating environments to refresh himself. Thus, the same task of re-energizing will be achieved differently—not equally—to receive the same goal of feeling refreshed.


So, back to the original question of how to teach children. Remember to determine the needs of each child. Does offering help calm the child or only frustrate him? Offering unsolicited help may not always be helpful; it may, in fact, be detrimental. Keep this in mind when deciding how you can best support and help the child to succeed, and everyone will be happier for it!

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