What’s the best approach?…
To let children go at their own pace?
To encourage, even push, them a little?
My gut tells me that our kids know best. They are pretty good at knowing what they can handle and when they can handle it.
So far in our parenting journey we have witnessed two very different responses from our children as they’ve dipped their toes into that ocean of independence. Despite my niggling questions and doubts along the way, in hind sight, it’s safe to say each child knew exactly what they needed and what they were capable of. Each child naturally let go of our hands and chose independence at very different stages to one another.
Here’s a quick snap shot of our 6 year old daughter’s personality…
From day one she was intense, high needs, alert and sensitive. Today she is still all those things, as well as compassionate, thoughtful, contemplative and passionate. Her heart is ready to explode with emotion and she often pauses as she “cries happy tears” during a heartfelt moment.
She is one of those kids who will stand back and observe when she is somewhere new. Or she will step aside at the top of the slide and let everyone else go down first. As an adult, everything in me wants to encourage her to be assertive, to take her turn, to NOT let everyone else go first. Surely, in this situation it’s ok to start teaching assertive skills and to encourage her to take her turn at the top of a busy playground slide. Isn’t it? I used to think so. I used to say things like “It’s ok, it’s your turn. You can go while the others wait for their turn.” More recently I don’t do this. This is how she operates. This is how she chooses to approach situations. My trying to push or change her will only serve to plant seeds of doubt in her mind about herself. Instead, I hold my tongue, I wait, I let her go at her pace. She’s building confidence step by step, on her terms.
It’s no surprise that she has struggled with separation anxiety. She hated aspects of kindergarten. We went from being excited with anticipation and taking those typical Facebook style “first day” photos, to worried and tormented with doubts. Kindergarten was certainly a rocky ride to say the least. We skipped weeks and months at a time. We would stay by her side for entire sessions, 5 hour sessions, for weeks on end. You can imagine our fears about starting school. However, two things played a part in making her time at school happy and stress free. I need to credit her school, which is nurturing, esteem building and beautiful in every way. And our sweet girl. At 5.5 years, she was ready. She was ready to say goodbye to us on that first, nerve filled, uncertain day. A few months later she even announced she was ready to catch the school bus to and from school. My jaw hit the floor. My girl, who had been plagued with extreme separation anxiety for years, was branching out with independence and blossoming. I have no doubt though, that if we had ever pushed too hard or insisted she do kinder when she wasn’t coping, she would not be in the place she is in today.
A snapshot of our 3 year old daughter’s personality…
I call her our little firecracker. She is bright and funny, fast and loud. She too has a heart full of passion and love. Instead of a gentle cuddle, she will literally fly into our arms, clacking our heads with hers as she squeezes us tight. She’s never had a problem staying at her grandparent’s while I do some chores. She barely even waves goodbye. At the park she will shout at ten year old boys “I still using it!” Or “I next, it’s my turn.”
So, when her Waldorf playgroup teacher suggested she begin 3 year old kinder classes it made sense. Thus far her kinder journey has been an easy ride, except for my initial humongous failing. On day one, I barely prepared her. She’d always taken everything in her stride without a care in the world, and I absent mindedly assumed this would be the same. She wasn’t prepared though and didn’t seem keen when I explained I was going and would be back soon. The following week I stayed with her. While surprised at her sudden tentativeness, I was prepared to stay for however many weeks she needed me. Then, as we arrived in week 3, she announced she wanted me to go and that “Lucy and Summer can look after me, you go.” When I return these days, she’s hugging other kids, playing happily or sitting on Summer’s lap during story time.
Pushing children, with the well intentioned notion that they need it, is not, from my experience, the best call. Please don’t get me wrong…there are times our kids don’t want to do things and we know in our hearts that they may love a particular event or activity. In these cases, I navigate this pathway very sensitively with my child, offering support and empathy. For example, our eldest was extremely anxious about starting school. She asked if she could do school at home. She requested that we stay at school with her. We answered questions. We listened. We were empathetic and understanding. We never told her there was “no need to worry and that it would be fine”. We didn’t diminish her feelings or dismiss her fears. But, on day one of school, after staying for a bit, we said goodbye, despite her feeling nervous and uncertain about it all. We knew she was in safe and trusted hands. Admittedly, we were especially fortunate to have worked at her school and a couple of our closest friends would be teaching her. At the start of the day she was teary and anxious. When we collected her she announced she had loved it and felt a little bit confident.
Our children know what they are capable of.
They WANT to grow and learn and be independent.
They NEED for us to hold their hands and trust that they will fly when they are ready.
It’s a precious gift to be exactly what our children need. To provide a place that nurtures and protects. And, all in good time, to provide them with our trust and confidence as they take their first steps towards independence and separation.