Last year while walking on my home commute from my workday, I watched two of my elementary aged students toss their back packs to what appeared to be their grandfather who then picked up the packs. The two students then started running and playing while the grandfather accompanied them home with two backpacks in his hand. The students wave at me and say hello. I say hello back, and then I yell back, “Hey, you should carry your own back packs! Why are you letting your grandfather carry them?” They just laughed and kept on playing, “He always carry’s our backpacks!”
To be fair to my students, they are right. I consistently see parents, grandparents and caregivers grab student’s backpacks, coats, lunchbags or work. And what is wrong with this? Why shouldn’t adults help children carry their stuff? Afterall, we are stronger, more responsible and maybe it even feels good to help children lighten their load.
The problem is that children miss out on a significant opportunity to practice skills that will support their ability to regulate and manage their feelings. We have evolved as a species with the daily practice of contributing to a tribe. Physical labour was an essential part of our survival. Our feeling brain evolved along with the practice of moving, pushing, pulling, carrying and lifting. Our brain and body still carry the connection between helping our tribe survive and using our big muscles.
Physical tasks and managing feelings are connected. We want children to get into the practice of taking care of their own things. We want to give children the message that they have the strength to manage their uncomfortable feelings on their own.
Let your children carry their own backpacks. This gives them the experience of carrying and lifting. It teaches them to be responsible for their things. It helps them practice the notion that it is their job to take care of their things. Over time, this gives them confidence and assurance in knowing that they can take care of themselves. Our modern day lifestyle is becoming farther removed from the daily tasks that helped teach our brains to manage our feelings.