Tag Archives: confidence in children

Allowing Children to Play for Their Age and Stage

One of my most favourite and rewarding RIE practises centres around the notion that, in play, children are entirely capable of achieving their own goals at their own pace often without the need for demonstration or guidance. My understanding and appreciation of this has developed over time and as I have withdrawn my desire to show the girls what to do with an activity, toy or task, I have witnessed a lovely spike in confidence and countless beaming smiles as they have engaged in play in the way they wish to, without the expectation to do it right!

Although I could probably write a novel of short stories describing examples of how letting my girls discover their own play style has produced inspiring results, I have chosen just a couple of recent examples to share with you.

A few weekends back, my husband and I took our girls (Lucy, 2.4 years and Penny, 1.3 years) to visit their Granny in Brisbane (our nearest capital city). Being from a smaller town, we love taking the girls to see the amazing sights a big city has to offer so it wasn’t long before we had packed our bags and headed off for an excursion to the City’s cultural playground which houses an art gallery, museum, Science Centre and the State Library amongst other things. There is far too much to take in on one day so we settled for just the museum and the State Library on this particular day. Of course the children LOVED the museum with all it’s beautiful animal exhibits and lovely interactive displays but it wasn’t until we got to the Library that I was truly able to see the benefits of letting the children discover their own play.

It just so happened that the Library at the time had a fantastic sound display for children consisting of musical instruments fashioned from ordinary household goods as well as a mini dance floor surrounded by curtains. Among the amazing contraptions the children were invited to interact with was a vacuum cleaner trumpet, a xylophone style instrument made from hanging spoons and forks, a thong-a-phone and a washboard table with drumsticks. The girls were overwhelmed with the choices and possibilities initially. The first thing they discovered was the dance floor. With its flashing lights and cubby like set up, it was always going to be a big attraction. Lucy headed straight onto it, grabbing the head phones from the rack and donning them before ditching them in favour of ‘chasing the lights’ on the floor.


Penny walked tentatively across the floor, ignoring the headphones and the flashing lights and walked straight into the curtains where she played peek-a-boo, hiding in them and running through them for a long period of time. I sat nearby and watched them go. Whilst I did so I watched several other excited children enter the space with their parents in toe. They directed their toddlers to the headphones and popped them on their heads before standing with them and imitating their children’s bopping motion as many of them do.

I have absolutely no problem with this and in fact, pre RIE I was exactly the same, always wanting to show my kids what they are supposed to be doing. As it went on though, I sat there watching as Penny played happily in the curtains, exploring and discovering whilst several family groups came and went. I detected a pattern of behaviour whereby, those children that had been directed to do as the display intended, lasted in the area for less than a minute whilst those who were left to discover for themselves, played for a much longer time.

One particular incident had me feeling quite sorry not just for the child but for the parent too. This little boy, slightly older than Penny but less than two (I’m guessing) entered the dance floor with his parents and saw Penny hiding in the folds of the curtain. Ignoring the lights and headphones (much like Penny) this boy headed straight to another set of hanging curtains that encircled the floor but just before he got his little hand on one, his Dad grabbed his arm and redirected him back to the headphones, fitting them on his head and then bopping in front of him, showing him how to dance. The toddler, understandably was less than impressed and wriggled out of the headphones, throwing himself to the floor in objection when he was prevented from going into the curtains once again. The child was then helped from the floor by his Mum who then directed him out of the play area and out of the library.

Now, admittedly, I do not know any of the circumstances of this family which could have led to the decisions they made that day but I couldn’t help but wonder whether their need to provide their son with as many of life’s experiences as possible had made them overlook their child’s basic desire to explore and investigate in his own way, developing his own chosen experiences along the way.

Once Penny had left the dance area to delve deeper into the other delights on offer, I watched in fascination as she carefully considered her options. I repositioned myself so I was central to both her and Lucy and enjoyed several moments watching both girls move from object to object, gathering in information from each before they would eventually settle on the one that would resonate with them the most.

From my position I had a great vantage point for viewing the washboard table drum designed so children would run a drumstick along the board and tap the hanging metal plates like cymbals. The effect was lovely but as I sat I was amazed that not just some but all children who chose to climb onto the stool and partake in a little noise making were shown what to do by their parents. I’m not talking just little toddlers either; there were children there that would have had to be 5 or 6 who were not trusted to explore and play independently. Parents all over could not resist showing the children how to run the drumstick over the corrugated surface to make a sound. I pondered whether they might have discovered how to use it for themselves if given a little time. Interesting to note here was that the average lasting time at this particular display was less than 30 seconds.

After a little bit, Penny approached the this table and put her hands on the stool trying once to pull herself up before realising it was a little too high for her. So instead, she reached up and grabbed the drumstick. She then started hitting it on the stool, making little tapping noises. She then noticed that there was a little decorative hole cut out of the middle of the seat of the stool. She put her fingers of her free hand into it before peering in to have a look where it led. She then poked the drumstick into the hole carefully until it was almost all the way in and then removed it. She repeated this experiment about a dozen times before accidently (it seemed) dropping the drumstick into the hole. She peeked anxiously in after it and spotted it down on the floor. This started a whole new period of discovery for her whereby she would drop the stick in the hole then bend down and retrieve it before repeating over and over.

Her intense concentration was only broken by another child who came over to join in the game, peering into the hole after Penny had dropped the stick through. The girl’s mother was close behind and was careful not to let her daughter take the stick from Penny. Penny was finished though and happily offered up the stick to the girl who tried to poke the stick in the hole like Penny was doing but was promptly picked up and sat on the stool by her Mum and shown how to run the drumstick up and down the wash board.

If I could have sent a subliminal message to all those parents that day it would have been to do some research into RIE. Whilst I know that there are many many lovely parents and styles of parenting which are far removed from RIE and which still produce beautiful children, I know that the joy and satisfaction I experience in allowing my children to play at their own level and to have ownership over their play has got to be greater than having to constantly redirect children to play ‘properly’.

Another experience happened here at home, just the other day. It was a cold and rainy day, one not really conducive to letting the kids run around outside. I decided to set up some sticky collage play for Lucy whilst Penny slept. Whilst she was ‘cooking’ in her ‘kitchen’ I discretely stuck some contact paper upside down on her art table. I added some containers of collage material including cut up paper, material, buttons, confetti stars and puff balls and left it all there for her to discover. I had seen this activity set up on an internet site and thought it would be a great one for Lucy who has a short fuse and can get quite frustrated when trying to use glue with loose parts for normal collage work. I had certain expectations (based on the site) and thought this might be an activity that would keep her engaged for a significant amount of time. (Just as a side note, Lucy is not really renowned for her attention skills, I believe, as a result of being ‘entertained’ a lot through her first 18 months of life, prior to my discovery of RIE.) So this is how things unfolded.

Lucy discovered the invitation to play.

IMG_3536She slowly investigated the confetti stars discovering that they stuck nicely to the contact.

IMG_3540She then upended each of the containers one at a time onto the contact making a big pile in one spot.IMG_3543

IMG_3545She then discovered that this pile was not all stuck to the contact so she grabbed handfuls of the loose parts from the pile and dropped them over the edge of the table, watching them as they floated to the floor.

IMG_3547It took all my strength not to leap in and stop her doing this; to redirect her back to the task I had so carefully prepared for her. But to her, at her age and stage, this was play, this was experimentation, discovery and fun all in one. It didn’t look how I expected it to but she didn’t know that, I hadn’t told her and she was very happy and proud of her achievement.

I believe the RIE road is such a rewarding one and I love to reflect on experiences such as this and feel that overwhelming sense of gratefulness that I am able to now enjoy such moments in parenting rather than stress that my children are not on the right track or experiencing the right things. I would love to hear some other stories like this from parents who have experienced the same thing. Feel free to post in the comments below.

Rebuilding a Child’s Confidence

As an infant, my daughter could have been considered a very confident baby. Not a lot phased her, she rarely objected to strangers holding her and in play group settings, was very interactive with other babies and seemed happy to explore her environment with plenty of confidence to try new things. She has always displayed exceptional intelligence and physical ability and has a beautiful heart, but somewhere along the way, my little girl’s confidence has been knocked.

Rebuilding a Child's Confidence ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

No longer is she always such a happy, carefree girl, and although this shift in confidence has been gradual and is peaking just as she approaches the age of two (a tough developmental stage), I can’t help but think that maybe there were some areas of my parenting that in some way contributed to my daughter’s change of nature.

I have decided to break it up into the four areas which I think may not have been ideal for supporting the confidence she was innately born with:

1. Putting her into situations she was not ready for:

Builing a Child's Confidence ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident KidsI used to have so much fun taking my daughterto the park when she was just a small baby. She seemed to love being pushed in the swing and being slid down the slippery slide. I would also help her climb up large structures by supporting and boosting her up. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that by putting her into situations that she could not get into herself, I was unwittingly conveying the message that her actual abilities were not good enough.

Then, it was a little like a perpetual roundabout that was difficult to get off. The more we did this, the more she wanted to do it and the more she would become frustrated when she couldn’t.

In a previous post, I spoke about my natural desire to want to see my child achieve her milestones. I would try to aide her rolling by helping her onto her tummy or back when she was clearly trying to do this herself but not quite making it. I believe this may have kick started her ‘frustration squeal’ as she learned to depend on me to get herself into positions she didn’t have the muscular control to do herself and in doing so made her question the confidence she had in her own ability to do things, as well as making her feel she was inadequate because she couldn’t do it.

The same happened when she was thinking about crawling. On hands and knees, I would gently guide her hand forward, followed by her knee to show her the motions. It wasn’t long before she realised that she couldn’t crawl by herself when she wanted to and so the screams continued.

Then came the walking and so on. To her, it seemed that what she was capable of doing in the here and now was never good enough and my pushing her into things she wasn’t ready for was only fuelling this thought.

2. Playing too well with her:

When she was younger, I loved playing with her. It was like I was reliving my own childhood. I loved to build her towers that she could knock down and then help her to build her own.

Rebuilding a Child's Confidence ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident KidsWhen we played with play dough, I would be right beside her playing too. I would make lovely shapes and figures and tell stories with them whilst my daughter looked on with her big ball of mushed play dough.

When she would colour with her pencils, I would enjoy colouring in myself, being sure to stay neatly inside the lines. Little did I realise that  by engaging with her play in this way I was undermining her confidence. She would see what I was doing and when she realised she could not do it as well as I could, she would give up.

In hindsight, she communicated this to me well before she could speak. If she was building blocks beside me and was having trouble stacking more than three blocks, whilst I was easily building a great tower she would aggressively knock both hers and mine over with a yell of frustration and move onto something else.

Her reaction with the playdough was very similar and when we would colour, if she stopped to look up at mine, she would see how neat it was and then quickly scribble over the top of it and tear her own page or throw her book on the ground. She knew there was no way she could complete the tasks to the standard she thought she had to, so she would vent her frustration and then destroy my creations, maybe trying to tell me I was expecting too much.

I was teaching her how to do things properly but I hadn’t realised that, in a child’s eyes, there is no such thing as properly until you show them there is.

3. Helping too much when frustrations set in:

It is so instinctive to want to jump to the rescue of a child who is crying out for help. It is an easy fix. You solve whatever problem is ailing them and then they’re happy, you’re happy because they’re happy and everyone can go on happily playing. Problem is, when you do this, you are giving them the message that they can’t do it on their own. Therefore, when the same or a similar situation arises, the child will continue to cry out for help, lacking their own confidence to work it out for themselves.

When I think about it, I helped my daughter from early on by handing her the toy she was searching for, just out of her reach. As she grew older I helped her with puzzles, shape sorters and other toys that required problem solving. I would unhook her pram when it got stuck on something as she pushed it in an effort to prevent her shouts of frustrations and turn her posting cards around the right way for her so she could post them into the box easily.

I thought I was helping her through her struggles; I was showing her how to do things so she would quickly learn and not have to struggle anymore. Problem was, she wasn’t given the opportunity to work things out for herself and by helping her through her frustrations, I  was conveying a message that she was incapable of doing it on her own.

4. Providing her with too many electronic toys:

Rebuilding a Child's Confidence ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident KidsComplex in their design but simple in their operation, electronic toys gave my daughter a false sense of her ability. With many of her electronic toys, she could simply press a button or pull a handle and something amazing would happen. It was so easy for her that when given an inert toy that did not have a button to push or lever to pull, she had unrealistic expectations of what should happen with these toys. When she could not get something to perform for her easily, she would give up and question her ability to work it. She had little perseverance for problem solving type toys. preferring the cheap entertainment of the flashy toys.

Where to From Now?

Following RIE philosophies, I am now in the process of re-building my daughter’s confidence. As I undertake this task, I am mindful that this is not a quick fix and will take a great deal of dedication, patience and reassurance.

I now refrain from my own desires to play with my child and when I do, I am always careful to allow her to guide the play and tell me what to do, rather than the other way around. Electronic toys are a thing of the past and she is now able to engage in skill building, problem solving and open ended toys for longer periods of time.

If she cannot climb it, jump it, get into it or on it then she doesn’t get any assistance from me other than gentle support with comments like: “I can see you’re trying really hard. It’s difficult to climb over that climbing frame. If you’d like to keep trying I will stay right beside you for support.”

By substituting the old methods for these new ones, I am slowly starting to see a return in the spirit of my little girl and I hope she will go on to climb mountains, full of confidence that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to in life.

You might also enjoy reading

Allowing Children to Play For Their Age and Stage ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

Could Young Children be Better Served by Not Teaching Them ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

Toys Fostering Creativity and independence in Children ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

Beginning the RIE Parenting Journey

Ok, so here I am; mum of 2, wife of 1 and teacher of many. Yep, for 12 years I have taught countless children the health benefits of sport and exercise and the intricacies of solving algebraic equations. I was confident in most aspects of my chosen career and found the role of guiding students through these subjects came very naturally with few frustrations.

You could say I was organised in my approach, spending hours creating lessons that would engage students and activate their minds. I could relate well to the students and found many of them came to me for advice and treated me somewhat as their confidante. I was able to listen to them and guide them through their problems.

I always delighted in seeing these students (often they lacked self-confidence and trust in their own ability) come out of their shells over the years of schooling and succeed in reaching the goals they had set, big or small. It was not uncommon for students to return to school, years after finishing, to fill me in on where life had taken them. These were the special moments. The rewards of teaching that made it all worthwhile.

You see, I was not a confident child. I was the child who cried everyday of Kindergarten and Preschool when my Mum dropped me off. I would cry when it was my turn to ‘steal the cookie from the cookie jar’ and I would cry when I had to lie down on the little floor beds to have a rest because I felt embarrassed and vulnerable.

As I grew, I continued to lack confidence in everything I did except for playing sport. It was the only place I felt I could do anything. I guess this steered me down the path of my chosen career. Even as an adult I have some confidence issues when socialising or when speaking out about a subject for fear of criticism from my peers and even as I write this blog, I wonder what people will say and whether they will like it. But this is part of who I am and I have always been able to draw on this to be able to speak with the eyes of compassion to the students I see struggling with the very same issues I had when I was their age. It has never stopped me achieving everything I have wanted in life and if anything, has driven me to try harder to do everything perfectly.

So, when I became pregnant, I was outwardly nervous (as most new Mums would be) but quietly confident in my ability to rise to the challenge. I listened politely as friends, family, colleagues and even strangers warned me about how difficult it was raising children and thanked them for their well-meaning advice and strategies for managing parenthood.

Inside I was thinking, ‘how hard can it really be? I can do this. I am a good teacher; if I can manage to teach upwards of 150 students at any one time and do a reasonable job in steering these young adults through their daily struggles then surely I can manage one little child and guide her through life challenges with poise and confidence . Right?’

Beginning The RIE Journey ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids


And so, as my daughter began her life in this beautiful world, I naively began my journey into parenthood. I soon discovered that no amount of teaching, organising or advice could have prepared me for the ride I was about to take. My experiences of parenting have made me question the commonly dished out advice of ‘Trust Your Instincts’ and steered me down the wonderful path of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) whose founder, Magda Gerber, said this

“I believe that, no matter how much and how fast the world changes, a well-grounded, competent, and confident person is best equipped to adapt to it. This is our goal”. 
Magda Gerber

Confidence. If I could ask for my children to have anything at the end of their childhood, it would be confidence. Confidence to succeed, confidence to fail, confidence to cry, confidence to admit mistakes, confidence in all they do.

Whilst I had succeeded in helping some of my students find the confidence they had needed to forge forwards in their lives, I now had to stop and consider how I could do the same for my own children. Were my instincts good enough? Answers did not come quickly or easily, but over time I have been lucky enough to discover the parenting philosophies of Magda Gerber. A lot of who I am now I owe to a RIE teacher Janet Lansbury whose teachings on Elevating Childcare are simply inspiring.

Beginning the RIE Journey - Confident Lucy

I hope that I too can inspire even just one person through my future blogs, highlighting my personal discovery of RIE and how it has changed my family’s lives.

You might also enjoy reading:

Rebuilding a Child’s Confidence ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

A Beginner’s Guide to RIE Parenting ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)