This weekend, I had the chance to attend a Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby competition. Attending the event almost instantly triggered the question, “How many parents completely took over this project, completing the derby car for the kid instead of with the kid?” The number of people who answer yes to this question is likely—and unfortunately—a lot higher than I’d like it to be.
But then I started thinking about the opposite of this situation, a parent who completely lets the child take over the project without providing any input or advice on how to make the best car. I wondered to myself, which one of these situations is worse?
I had been thinking about this question throughout the weekend and then this question became more complicated as I watched a three-year-old attempt to help with offering at church on Sunday. This child’s mom was helping him and she didn’t do either of the scenarios that I mentioned above about the Pinewood Derby competition. She didn’t completely do the task for him assuming that he couldn’t do it; and at the same time, she didn’t let him have complete control over the task, because he’s three and he has no idea how to actually do it. Instead, she offered instructions for what to do, gave him some freedom, and then intervened when necessary when he needed some redirection.
As I thought about this example and how it relates to the Pinewood Derby competition, I decided that neither was worse, that both of them were a significant problem. The parent who constructs his own Pinewood Derby car for his son may provide some value to the child if he tells his son what he did and why he did it, but he cheats his son out of the opportunity to learn the information that his dad already knows and to practice these skills firsthand. Likewise, the parent who completely allows the child to have full-reign over what the Pinewood Derby car looks like without providing any guidance may also cheat the child out of learning about the importance or conducting research and making educated decisions. And finally, the parent who offers guidance in the research and design process and freedom to the child to develop his own unique creation based on that research provides the child with the most valuable experience.
As I think about that Pinewood Derby competition, I hope that the majority of these parents used this both-and combination, to help these boys learn not only how the aerodynamics of derby cars work, but also that they are capable young men.