What Is Scaffolding Parenting?

In 1976, American psychologist Jerome Bruner originally used the word scaffolding as a metaphor for the best way to educate a child. His theory was about collaborative learning, that a parent or teacher has to guide the student while he learns a new math skill, for example, and then, once the child has achieved mastery of it, the parent or teacher stops instruction of that task and moves on to the next.

Taking Bruner’s core scaffolding idea of an authority figure guiding a child toward independence it expanded and redefined it into parental support and guidance, not just in an educational context but in an emotional, social, and behavioral one, too. The metaphor of the parental scaffold is visual, intuitive, and simple.

Think of it this way: Your child is the “building.” You, the parent, are the scaffold that surrounds the building. Your purpose as the scaffold is to provide support and structure, not prohibit your child’s growth in any particular direction or style.

Every effective scaffold has vertical posts or pillars as well as horizontal planks—the combination makes the whole structure safe and secure. The scaffold rises at the same pace as the building. It is wider at the early “stories,” providing that solid foundation that allows for strength and growth. It becomes less important as the building rises ever higher.

If a piece of the building falls off, the scaffolding is there to catch it and make fast repairs. Eventually, when the building is finished and ready to stand completely on its own, the parental scaffold can come down. It may come down one section at a time since all parts of the building might not be completed at exactly the same time. And, as needed, parts of the scaffold can go back up.

The pillars of scaffolding parenting.

The framework of all your decisions and efforts as parents is the three pillars of your scaffold: structure, support, and encouragement. By relying on these pillars, you will boost your kids’ confidence, self-esteem, and coping skills so that they develop into adults who support, encourage, and provide structure for themselves. You scaffold a child so that, eventually, he’ll be able to scaffold himself.

1. Structure

Structure encompasses routines, communication style, house rules, ways of thinking, all the underlying infrastructure of your scaffold.

2. Support

Support with emotional empathy and validation. A child’s feelings need to be heard and acknowledged, not judged or dismissed.

3. Encouragement

Encouragement is gently pushing your child to try new things and take risks. 

Throughout the process, you will need to model and teach positive behaviors, giving corrective feedback and boosting your child’s sense of competence. Role modeling doesn’t breed dependency; it encourages independence.

Read also “What Kids Learn from Collections”


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