When we see someone struggling, our first instinct is usually to jump in and offer assistance (after all, being friendly and helpful is part of the Girl Scout Law!). This is especially true for parents and troop leaders—it’s hard to sit on the sidelines and watch a loved one struggle. Sometimes though, the best thing we can do to help is to step back and let girls figure it out by themselves.
Learning by doing is a basic tenant of Girl Scouting, and is intrinsic to the Girl Scout Leadership Experience. Girls build and master skills through hands-on experience. If we as adults always step in to help (or, let’s be honest, take over) when girls are struggling, we end up taking away these fruitful learning opportunities from girls. How many times have we heard the expression, “Practice makes perfect”? Girls need the chance to practice (and sometimes fail) before they can master new skills.
Easier said than done, right? But the more you practice holding back, the easier it’ll be for girls to learn how to persevere, problem-solve, and pave the way for themselves. Read on for a few pointers on letting go.
Give them a chance to make an honest effort. When we step in before girls even get a fair shot at something new, we send them a message of, “I don’t think you can do this. Don’t even try.” So, pause before you offer to help, and ask yourself, does she actually need help or do I just think I should help her?
Be their scaffolding. Adopting a more hands-off approach doesn’t mean you can’t provide any help whatsoever. Just like a construction crew first assembles a supportive frame before they build the actual building, you can support girls by offering just enough assistance to enable them to complete a task by themselves without doing the work for them. Ask open-ended questions that jog their own problem-solving skills. For example, if your girls are assembling a Lego kit, you can say, “Looks like that piece doesn’t quite fit there. What else could you try?”
Know their capabilities, and their limits. With struggle comes growth, but lots of struggle and failure without any reward leads to an erosion in confidence and giving up. If a task is so challenging or beyond a girl’s developmental level that it’s basically impossible, it’ll be an exercise in frustration when your girl tries and tries again, but doesn’t get it. Strike a balance in your troop’s activities—they should hit that sweet spot of being just challenging enough and age-appropriate (see pages 43–48 in Volunteer Essentials for Understanding Healthy Development in Girls).
The path doesn’t always look the same. What looks like struggling to you might just be a different way of doing something. Just because girls aren’t following the explicit steps you would take doesn’t mean they won’t eventually get to the solution. Remember, it’s about the journey, not the destination!
Think of the times you’ve personally struggled with something—with a task or learning a new skill—and then think about the feeling you had when you finally got it. The struggle was part of the equation. Without the effort and time you put into learning that skill, the sense of accomplishment would’ve been much less of a payoff. Let girls have that chance to experience that very same thrill of “I got this!” because chances are, they do have it.
Lily Yu – Lily is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. In her free time, Lily enjoys going for long runs, reading, and spending time with her family (including her five-year-old daughter who’ll be a Daisy this year!).