You hold the light

Mon, 07/27/2009 - 8:37am
By: The Citizen

By Greg Moffatt
Special to The Citizen

A good friend of mine and I were working together once and I asked him if he worked on his own vehicles. “Not really,” he said. His father worked on cars so I was surprised that his father never taught him. When I asked him why he said, “I didn’t like working on things with him because all I ever got to do was hold the light.” My friend’s well-intentioned father had not only failed to teach his son, but even more importantly, he created an environment where his son didn’t want to participate.

We all learn by watching and by doing. Even though we all know that we learn through our mistakes, it is hard for us to sit back and watch our children mess up.
Right after I had this conversation with my friend, I was changing the brakes on my truck. Predictably, my son asked to help. I realized this was the perfect opportunity for him to learn something about mechanics, for us go be together, and for me to do something other than ask him to hold the light.

There were four wheels so he could watch, learn, and do. He watched while I did the first wheel. I showed him how the process worked and what to do. We moved on to the next wheel and I helped him do it. The last two wheels I sat back and said, “I think you know how. Let ME hold the light.”
He was so proud as he went through the steps he had seen and practiced. When he got confused or forgot something, I waited for him to ask for my help before I intervened. When he asked, “Is this right?” I responded with, “What do you think? Try it and see.” I watched carefully to make sure he wouldn’t hurt himself, but otherwise I fought the urge to make sure he did it right the first time.

At least once or twice I could see he was making a mistake by trying to do steps out of order or put things in the wrong place. I knew it wouldn’t work the way he was doing it and I knew he would have to back up and try again, but I remained silent. In doing so, he was able to figure it out by himself. On the next wheel, he didn’t make the same mistakes again.

When he finished, I checked to make sure everything was tight, but I was careful to say as I did it, “I know you did this right! I’ll just make sure the nuts are tight. Yep! Perfect.” I didn’t want it to look like I was re-doing what he had already done.

Even though I could have finished the job in much less time, I realized that completing the job was of secondary importance. Of primary importance was teaching my son, helping him learn that he can do more than hold the light, and spending time together. My son’s confidence was exciting to me as he showed his mother the work he had done.

Children want to be involved in what you are doing. They want to DO it. Holding the light is a starting point in learning, but nobody wants to stay there. An important skill to teach our children is something called “efficacy.” Efficacy is the internal belief that you can succeed at what you are doing. By holding the light for my son, I taught him efficacy - that he could succeed. My friend’s father taught him nothing in terms of efficacy and that is undoubtedly one reason why my friend never found interest in working on cars.

When I work with my own son and I have the urge to do it for him or to have him “hold the light” I remember my friend. I try to allow my children to do it, make mistakes, and learn. As much as I can, I say, “Why don’t you let me hold the light and you show me what you can do.”

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