Previously I have written about letting go of our children as they reach those milestones in their life. Whilst I did, it struck me that there is another aspect to letting go and it is one that I am in the full swing of at the moment. It is the gradual process of giving our children more and more freedom as they become increasingly capable individuals.
Moving away from protection
When our kids are young we protect them in every way. We are there all the time. We don’t even leave the room unless we are sure they are safe. As they get older this changes. They play around the house and loud crashes, tears or ominous lengths of quiet alert us to problems. However, they are still within our domain and we (or another trusted adult) are always there. But gradually as they get older they need more freedom. They want to test themselves. They want to go out and play unsupervised or go to the shops alone. The older they get the more they push for that ever important space, to discover themselves in the world.
For us as parents it is a constant balancing act. Weighing up the risk factors and our child’s abilities is never easy and at the back of our minds are always the fears of the more serious things that could go wrong.
The drive for independence
Our children need to expand. They need to test themselves and that means that we must release a certain amount of control. We need to learn to trust them gradually more and more. We need to trust that they will cope even if there are times when things don’t go to plan. This is never easy but necessary.
The alternative to this often uncomfortable readjustment for us is to keep our children restricted, holding them back from what they can do and that is not a great option for them or us. Children need to grow and learn to develop their own skills. They need to learn to trust themselves. They need to go out in the world and learn, some of which they will do by making mistakes.
When I look back on my school years (both primary school and senior school) many of the things I remember are the mistakes I made or the tough parts. Not because I still feel bad about them but because they were turning points for me, times when I learnt about myself and who I was.
– I remember taking a risk and realising afterwards that it was not worth it.
– I remember doing something unkind (not massively so) and realising that this was not me.
– I remember putting myself down so others would like me and deciding that I would rather be alone and would never do that again.
– I remember being treated poorly by my friends and making the decision to walk away.
– I remember one of the local bullies turning her attention to me and discovering that I could hold my own even though it hurt.
– I remember being lost and having to sort it out myself.
These were all things that happened without adult supervision. They were difficult moments but ones that helped me discover myself, discover my boundaries, principals and develop my ability to be my own person.
From an adult perspective, letting go is hard. We know the risks, and our instincts tell us to protect. But our role is far greater than that. We are about developing our children into adults with all the coping skills and abilities they will need for the task. We can’t do that by holding onto them all the time.
So how to go about giving more freedom. Well I am still in the midst of learning and indeed there can be no right approach because each child is different. As parents we know our children better than anyone else and what their strengths and challenges are.
There are some things we can do gradually or in phases, like progressing from crossing quiet roads to busier ones or going out to play unsupervised for longer and longer stints. Giving our children greater amounts of freedom and responsibility gradually allows them (and us) to iron out any issues as they come up.
However, there are some things where we have to, after a suitable amount of consideration, take a deep breath and just let them do, like walking to school alone or getting on the bus for the first time. We have to hand over that responsibility to our inexperienced children in order that they can become experienced and be the capable adults that they can be.
Are you in the process of giving your child more freedom? How does it feel? Is there some step in the future that your child will take that concerns you? or Do you have any advice for another parent walking this path? I would love to hear from you and get your views. I reply to every comment.
So what is next?
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