Monday, September 21, 2009

PD Tool Card: Letting Go

This week's Positive Discipline Tool Card is about how NOT to be a helicopter parent. One of my personal parenting goals. It's called "Letting Go."

Letting go does not mean abandoning your child. It means allowing your child to learn responsibility and to feel capable.

Kids can't be responsible or feel capable if Mom or Dad does things for them every time. Or even if they help every time.

It's difficult to know when your help is truly needed and when it's time for you to stay the heck out of things. Very difficult. Part of the difficulty for me is due to the fact that I'm so used to their dependency. They need me for lots of legitimate things. And I'm obligated to provide for those needs. So I am constantly asking myself: "Why am I doing this thing? Does he need me to do this, really? Is there a real risk that actual harm will come to him or someone else or property if he tries to do this independently?"

Just today, Sean climbed up onto the ottoman and stood up. He bounced a bit, enjoying the feel of standing on cushioned upholstery. He bounced harder, and grinned that Toddler Grin (you know the one I mean). He walked close to the edge, so I took him off. Of course, he climbed back up and I asked myself those questions above, and decided that I would sit back and let him explore. If he fell, he wouldn't get too hurt, just a foot or two off of the carpeted floor, away from sharp objects. And you know what? He didn't even fall. He played and bounced and grinned. When he got bored, he got off and wandered away. I think he felt capable and proud, as evidenced by that Toddler Grin. :o)

With the jobs I described earlier today, I have to do the same thing. Figure out if there's any rational reason I shouldn't let them do something. If not, then I will provide instructions if necessary, and then step back. Yes, I was biting my nails the whole time Morgan was pruning the tree. But she did just fine, respected the rules for using that particular tool (no dancing, for example, and yes--that was something I had to explain), and had a glorious time. She felt capable and she was indeed responsible.

The other reason I think it's difficult to let kids go is simply because you want to protect them from harm, physical or otherwise. It is HARD to watch a new climber slide down the stairs. It is HARD to watch a child screaming in frustration (yet insisting that he be independent) because the screwdriver keeps slipping out of the screw. It is HARD when they get their feelings hurt.

But such experiences are a part of life. Over-protecting children from every little bump and bruise and heartache and frustration robs them of the chance to learn how to deal with these things in a rational way. Childhood is their time to practice and prepare for being independent adults. So when bad things happen, why not look at those times as opportunities to practice coping or problem-solving skills? At the very least, you can hug them while they cry--and that's a good thing to learn, too. That the people who care about you will comfort you when you're sad.

So this week, I'll be reminding myself to Step Away from the Children, so that they can be more responsible and more capable. I think I'll have shorter nails by the end of the week, though! :o)

By the way, I LOVE #4 on the Tool Card:

Get a life so your identity doesn't depend on managing your child's life.

YES! Especially when they are really small, and your time is consumed by caring for their physical needs (feeding, sleeping, etc.), it's important to keep in mind that you, too, are a separate individual who needs to be independent from the kids. While the kids are learning to be independent and pursue their rational self-interest, it's a good idea to model that by pursuing your own. :D

1 comment:

Jennifer Snow said...

That's a great card. I was always ferociously independent as a small child and inclined to Do Things Myself come hell or high water, and boy did I EVER get in trouble for it.

I think an important addendum to this is not to FORBID your children to do things on the basis of "It's Dangerous", because if you do, and they do it ANYWAY, instead of being in a position where you're ready to comfort them and help them understand why they got hurt and how to Not Do It Again, you're now stuck in a position where you have to PUNISH the child. This is a terribly contradictory situation, too, when whatever they've done requires a lot of activity right up front--then several hours later you start growling and shouting about how they misbehaved. They'll think you've gone insane--and they'll learn that rules are a prison that punish EVERYONE INVOLVED.

Part of being independent is learning to EVALUATE the danger and fun of a given activity for yourself, and adult edicts against doing this-or-that don't enable a child to learn how to evaluate. A better way would be to explain your evaluation of the risk involved in order to help them see the process. Kids don't like getting hurt--in fact, from what I've seen they're often (but not always) likely to place a much HIGHER weight on "you could get hurt" than adults in a similar situation because they have a harder time handling shock and pain and they are often quite aware of their lack of skill in avoiding such pain.