This past weekend, my daughter learned to ride a two-wheeler. To be quite honest with you, I thought this day might not come. In fact, it seemed like she didn’t even want it to come – so we never forced it, not wanting to set her back by making her fearful.
But this past weekend, while watching her struggle with those darn training wheels, I impulsively dropped my gardening gloves and suggested that we just take them off and see what happens. I told her I’d be right by her side. To my surprise, she agreed. And wouldn’t you know it . . . she took off across the yard like she had been riding that bike for years. She was so proud of herself – we all were. But it gave me pause to think . . . had those training wheels been holding her back? How long had she been ready and I didn’t even know it? Are there any other areas in my children’s lives that I am keeping the “training wheels” on well past their point of usefulness?
As parents, we innately want to protect our children. For some of us, that takes the form of trying to find the balance between respecting their wishes (or fears) and encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone. For others (with more adventurous children), it often shows up in attempts to keep them from doing things we feels are well outside of their ability level. It is a difficult balancing act for all.
Gymnast and silver medalist, Jonathan Horton, was one of these adventurous kids. In fact, at the age of four, he shimmied up a 25 foot pole inside a local Target store. It was then that his parents enrolled him in gymnastics and an Olympic athlete was born. Channeling his talents, rather than stifling them, was their goal.
We, too, can find the balance between protecting and letting go. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Let your kids try things, even if you think they are too young (of course, I trust that you know that I am not talking about issues related to safety – exploration never trumps parental supervision or safety).
2. Don’t be afraid to let your children fail. Their failure is not a reflection on you, nor will they be crushed by it.
3. Don’t let a potential mess or inconvenience to you keep you from letting them explore.
4. Teach your children to problem solve. Don’t be so quick to solve the problems for them.
5. Teach your children to anticipate problems by playing the “what will you do if” game. Impulsivity is not the same thing as safe exploration.
6. Don’t plunge them into waters that are too deep before they know how to swim. We need to equip not assume.
7. Let what you know of your child’s character drive your decisions rather than fears of worldly influences. If you don’t have a good handle on your child’s character – make it your immediate goal to get one.
8. Restricting your child’s activities based on your own fears or predictions of failure sends a damaging message. Don’t let your own stuff cloud your decisions.
9. Don’t angrily give into demands and then wash your hands of responsibility. You can’t say, “You think you know what is best? Then go ahead – watch that movie. But don’t come to me when you have nightmares for the next couple of weeks.”
10. Pray. If you want to know if you are being overly protective, pray. If you worry about being too hands off, pray. Praying without ceasing pretty much covers any and all areas of parenting – not just the “big” stuff. Invite God to walk along with you on your daily parenting journey. Stay in constant communication with the Master and you will always know which way to go – even if He only illuminates the path directly in front of your feet.
[Photo by aconant at morguefile.com]