JOPLIN, Mo. —
The house was quiet except for the sound effects coming from my little boy's mouth.
He was building a series of towers, ladders and primary colored skyscrapers -- a very noisy business -- especially when one of his architectural masterpieces suddenly lost its footing.
He didn't mind the first few times it all came tumbling down; part of the fun of building is destroying. But as he kept rebuilding his towers, he seemed to do so with more and more care, aiming for a good, solid connection. He wanted the yellow block to nest perfectly with the blue block near the top of a precarious peak. He tried to place it once, twice ...
And I realized I was on the edge of my seat, watching his progress breathlessly.
I could see my toddler's problem. His towers were too close together; his tiny little hands couldn't maneuver between them and any move he made would bring them all down at once. If I simply scooted the towers on each end further away, he'd be fine.
But just before I reached out, I sat on top of my hands to fight the overwhelming urge to fix his problem.
It's hard for me to sit back and watch my child struggle with a task. Sometimes it's because I harbor a few control-freak tendencies and think everything must be done just so. Sometimes it's because I'm impatient and can't stand to wait for little hands to finish something that could have been done five times over by now. And sometimes it's because I hate that look of defeat in their sad little eyes.
But because I have the stellar advantage of this being the third toddler I've parented, I'm finally beginning to hold myself back.
It's about time, too. With his big sisters, I still sometimes fail to notice that I'm taking control of their problems, when all they need, mostly, is to be supported through those problems.
When I feel the lack of control in my children's issues, whether they're serious heartbreaks or small hiccups, it's all I can do to stand quietly by instead of reaching out my own abilities in (often unwanted) assistance. When there are school projects, accidental messes or normal chores, the shameful impatience I feel at their youthful incompetence is enough to ruin an afternoon, if not an entire day.
And when I see sadness and confusion over a seemingly impossible task or disheartening failure, the only thing I want to do is physically help them get it right so they won't have to be sad again.
But the truth is that none of those responses help. When times get tough -- with blocks, friendships, homework and beyond -- parental perfectionism only hurts things more.
So what should we be doing while we sit on our hands and refuse to steamroll their attempts at learning life's lessons? It's simple: We should be calmly and repetitively encouraging. The sadness in their eyes won't last long if they're taught to believe in themselves as we do. Their failures will be easier to bear if they're used to getting back up again.
The towers they build will eventually stand alone, all the stronger for having been tenaciously rebuilt, time and time again.
Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.blog spot.com.