How to let go so your child can grow
Letting go is hard for most parents.
Remember when your baby was learning to walk. And you held her hand as she joltingly took those first steps. You felt as though your hand was the only thing keeping her upright and safe. While you had hold of her she would never fall. Then, eventually, you took your hand away. It was scary and you knew it could result in a tumble. But you knew letting go was essential for her to grow and learn and get better at things.
Maybe it was the same when your child learned to swim, ride a bike, went to school for the first big day, caught the bus alone for the first time, played a solo on stage or any of those potentially angst-inducing events.
As our children pass these milestones, it’s normal to want to hang onto them. We want to protect then and tell them they’re not ready. We question whether they’re big enough, old enough or mature enough.
What happens when we don’t let go
Researchers have discovered that children whose parents don’t let go but continue to move obstacles out of the way (snowplough parenting), or hover around them to keep them safe and on track (helicopter parenting) do struggle. When we keep saving them they have difficulty making decisions.
They feel like they need our input on what sport to play, musical instrument to learn, subjects to study at school or job or university course to try.
- They lack resilience.
- They don’t bounce back from difficulties well.
- They struggle to problem solve. Rather than work through difficulties, they look immediately to their parents (or others) to get them out of tough situations.
In short, when we don’t let go our children learn to be helpless. They learn to be victims, reliant on us to help them to think, make decisions and deal with difficulties.
Letting go so they can grow
So, how do we let go so our children can grow into balanced, mature, responsible and resilient human beings?
1. Let go in age-appropriate ways
My 14-year-old daughter recently asked me if she could go to the movies on Friday night with her friends. The movie finished at 11.30pm. My response? "Uh, no". When my daughter asked if she could go to the cinema at 7pm the next night it was much easier to say yes. We should make sure we let go in ways that are age-appropriate. As another example, it may be fine for a nine-year-old child to ride around the block, but not a five-year-old.
2. Talk lots
Research tells us that pre-arming our kids with information ahead of time means they can have a clearer idea of what to expect as they experience new things. We can start to let go with the knowledge that we’ve proactively taught them how to make good decisions.
3. Give responsibility
Our children can’t learn to be responsible unless we give them responsibility. Will they make mistakes and fail often? Almost certainly. When they do, consider whether the responsibility was age-appropriate, talk it over and try again. They’ll only learn to be responsible through this process.
4. Defer to them
As our kids grow into their teen years their push for us to let go increases. As it does, defer to them to make decisions. They’re becoming old enough, you’ve taught them. Now they have the chance to show they’re responsible and that you can trust them. Deference, particularly when coupled with talking and reasoning, is a powerful way for them to grow and for us to have confidence as we let go.
5. Let go
Goethe said: “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings”. At some point, we simply need to let them spread their wings and fly.
We can’t protect our children from everything all the time, and to do so would be an injustice to them. But we can prepare them to make their own decisions in ways that work.
Ultimately, we simply need to let go for our children’s sake so that they can grow. These steps make it easier and safer to do so.
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