Here's a situation: A child sees a large mountain of snow, is excited and wants to climb up. The child attempts, several times only to get stuck, make slow progress and then become frustrated. The child turns to the adult and asks for help, Saying "Please lift me up!"
It might seem like a simple request with a simple answer. In fact, a few years ago I wouldn't have thought twice and just lifted my child up, helping her to the top. Since then though, I am more thoughtful with requests like this. In the book Home Away From Home (Lifeways Care of Children and Families by Cynthia Aldinger and Mary O'Connell) it reads "One of the cardinal rules is not to put a child into a position that she cannot get into herself. Better to let her struggle and strive until that special day when she can reach the first limb and pull herself up."
What once sounded somewhat cruel to me (watching a child struggle and fail) then made a little sense.
On this day I was fairly certain my own daughter was capable of climbing to the top of this snow mountain with a little persistence and work, so it wasn't too difficult to stand by and just encourage. But, it makes one think about those other times when a child asks to be put in a situation whether physical or psychological that the adult knows the child could not get into himself without adult interference. Many times we may be aware of the dangers of putting a child in a physical situation he or she could not reach independently, but just as importantly are those other situations we are tempted to rush them into when they are not ready.
Whether we are talking about a piece of playground equipment at the playground or a potentially stressful social situation, we as adults have to be able to know when our good intentions might not be what is best for a child. Dr. David Elkind coined the phrase "markers" to indicate significant accomplishments or the reaching of special events in the life of a child. When an adult interferes, in a way hurrying this process, something is lost. As is written in Home Away From Home "Immediate gratification eventually dampens, rather than deepens, joy in life."
In our "mountain of snow" situation I could tell by the look on my daughter's face that she relished that moment of reaching the top by herself, and even more, sliding down and doing it again. This day was a good reminder of the importance of marker moments and the awareness I need to have for those big moments and the even the little ones.