By Rosie and Jo’s mum.
When I was a childminder, I had the privilege of watching lots of babies learning to walk. I was even lucky enough to see some first steps.
Those babies recognised their developing skills and used the resources around them to get to the next level. When they were ready to pull themselves up to standing, they found an available cot side, chair leg or human hand and got on with the job. When they were ready to let go, they generally did it, without even realising, as they swapped a toy from hand to hand. My job was to provide the carpeted floor, the steady chair, the hand to hold to get from A to B and the comfort and reassurance they needed when they took a tumble.
When Jo was in mainstream school, just about coping courtesy of one to one TA support, the adults around her didn’t just provide the safe environment and the reassurance. They saw their role as driving her progress towards independence and away from the support. They didn’t “want her to get too dependent on adult support.”
Sorry, what? She is dependent on that support. That’s the only reason you just gave it to her. “Yes but she needs to get used to not having it and it’s our job to make that happen”
When those babies were learning to walk, they didn’t “get too dependent” on holding my hand. They used my hand for as long as they needed it and they let go when they were good and ready. There was no role for me in pushing them. I didn’t need to pull my hand away and let them fall over to show them that they could manage without it. In fact, that would have shaken their confidence and hampered their progress.
Children of all ages are very effectively programmed to make progress toward independence. Anyone who has tried to get out of the door in a hurry with a two-year-old hollering “Me do it” knows that only too well. In the right environment, they will learn to cope without adult support. Nobody needs to force them.
If a child isn’t becoming more independent, it is because something is stopping them. There is a barrier to them making progress.
For Jo, one of the biggest barriers to her making progress is fear of the support being withdrawn. In her words “If I show them I can manage without it today, they will think I can manage without it tomorrow and every day from now on and I won’t ever get it back again.” The fear created by adults trying to drive her progress actively prevents her from making that progress.
There were other barriers to her becoming independent of the TA:
- The social and sensory environment was constantly causing her distress and discomfort
- She couldn’t communicate her need for support when she didn’t already have it
- There were adults around her who chose not to accept or recognise her support needs
- The unpredictable behaviour of her peers terrified her
Trying to withdraw support in an environment that caused her distress without helping her to learn to communicate or ensuring that all the adults around her would be responsive to her needs just increased her anxiety and increased her dependence on the TA.
You don’t help children to make progress by taking away their support and leaving them to struggle. Instead you need to;
- reduce their anxiety,
- make sure they are able to ask for help,
- give them solid, consistent, effective support that they can truly rely on,
- give them good reason to trust everyone around them,
- give them an environment that feels safe,
- offer support that you are sure they don’t need because you know they will only accept it if they do
- give them permission to try things and fail
- accept regression with smiles and reassurance
- wait patiently……
Instead of worrying about ‘making them too dependent’, worry that you might push them away too fast and shake their confidence.
Their experiences will teach them whether it is safe or not to step away and try something on their own. Progress, made at their own pace, when they are really ready is true progress and. Once it is consolidated, they will feel like they have achieved something huge. They will be set up to look forward to the next step on their journey.