I watch as M-Girl struggles to keep her head above water. I want her to wear her water wings but she really doesn't want to. She can't quite swim - she can tread water and she manages to move small distances. She generally stays near the wall or the lane markers so there's always something to grab onto. But I wish she would wear the water wings until she's a stronger swimmer. Then I realize that she won't become a stronger swimmer wearing water wings. She'll only become stronger through the struggle.
I've always had a hard time watching my children struggle. When A-Girl was first learning how to put on her pajamas she'd always put both legs in one pant leg. It drove me crazy to watch so I'd help her. Then it dawned on me - the reason I'm able to put my pants on correctly is because I've had many, many years of practice. I had to learn to allow A-Girl to struggle to do it on her own and she's been a pro at putting on her own clothes for a few years now. I didn't actually get comfortable with watching the struggle. I just learned to leave the room whenever I had an overpowering urge to help when I shouldn't.
I imagine the same policy applies to all kinds of things. It's natural to want to help our children avoid mistakes that we've made. It's important to provide guideance and advice. But to do it too much robs them of experience that's important to their development. We have to let them struggle sometimes so that they can grow.