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The Need for Struggle and Reflection

The Need for Struggle and Reflection

Challenging yourself does not always feel good. It often feels scary and uncomfortable.

Yet it is only through the greatest struggle or discomfort that we learn something new with a sense of empowerment and resilience to endure even greater challenges.

Equally important in the learning process is time to think deeply, process stimuli, and reflect.

A self-directed learner is provided time and space to do both of these. Better attuned to their own needs, strengths, and challenges, a self-directed learner can struggle with a concept, sit with challenging feelings, release those feelings, and process it all through reflection and assessment. 


What does the parent/facilitator/spiritual guide do when a self-directed learner struggles and needs time to reflect?

1. Validate their feelings. You might say: “Ugh, yes that is frustrating.” “It is okay to be frustrated.” “I am here for you.” Or, “This struggle could be a sign that you are learning something new.” Provide time and create heart space for children to sit with and feel their feelings. Let their feelings play out naturally. Avoid distracting, manipulating, or shaming.  Invalidating what a child feels or needs shows the child that what they feel and think does not matter which can be detrimental to their
self esteem. What I explicitly tell my children is “you matter.” Or, “I matter and you matter and that is why we listen to one another’s feelings and work together to determine what each of us needs.” Explicit and implicit messages contribute to a person’s view of themselves and of their capacity so in validating their feeling you can nurture that sense of worthiness. 

2. Create a supportive, non-judgmental environment. Use fact-based observations or questions to foster intrinsic motivation. Children are born to love learning for the sake of learning. This is something that we as adults need to reconnect with and cultivate at home. Some fact-based observations include: “You used my favorite color blue in your drawing!” Or, you might
celebrate their efforts by saying “Wow, you put so much time into that and you did it!” Or reflect on what happened, “this kind of tape was not working until you tried a different approach.” With specific and authentic feedback you can be mindful of how learning is an evolving and challenging process.

Use these fact based observations instead of praise or other manipulative language such as “I like that way Emily is sitting quietly” Or, “I like the way Sarah used her manners.” This type of language is used to manipulate behavior and it creates comparison and it shames those that are not behaving this way. Even a generic and non-descript “Good Job!” carries little meaning, can make kids feel less secure, and take away from the joy of the process.

3. Model growth mindset by normalizing risk-taking and imperfection. My daughter used to be afraid of making mistakes. It would lead her to tears and send her quickly into a stress response state.  So, I began to lead by example and share my inner thoughts around imperfection and risk-taking. I now open up to my children about making mistakes, owning them, and reflecting on how I can learn from them.

4. Offer opportunities to explore, create, play, and think critically. Avoid directing a child’s life for them. This way they can have time to self-govern, increase self-awareness, self-confidence, think things through, and reach a greater depth in their understanding of concepts, games, experiments, etc. Using requests or inquiry over demands and instructions supports the development of the executive functioning skills like decision making and planning. 

5. Ask questions about their processes and experiences such as “how was that?” “how did that feel?” “what did you like best?” “what would you do differently?” “how have what you learned made you or the world better?” These types of questions can help your children self-reflect and identify with their personal responsibility, adaptability, resilience, and problem solving skills.


Overall, when we leave space for our feelings and our struggles than we can begin to see frustrations and errors as opportunities for growth.  In doing such, we can live more mindfully holding space for what is right in front of us without judgement. We can cultivate self-compassion, self-awareness, and begin to acknowledge our powerful learning capacities.

These are just some of the many ways that you can support self-directed learners, including yourself. 

Share in the comments below the ways that you embrace challenge and time for reflection. 

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