Get Closer to Your Children…By Stepping Away

A few days ago our family enjoyed a wonderful day out together. Our day started early but even so the girls were not ready to go home when we thought it was time. So we stopped at an old playground (it was positively scary – very unsafe : ) and let the girls run and play. The twisty slide was a hit with Agatha, though I kept envisioning her falling backwards off the ladder, Ryan laughed at me and told me to play with Ella. Smart man.

Nothing would’ve been accomplished by my hovering near Agatha. I might have warned her to be careful, to keep her grip tight, to climb faster, slower, or not at all. As it was I never said anything, she climbed happily, and never fell.

Ella and I went to the monkey bars.

These particular bars were huge, an arch – at the highest point it was more than six feet off the ground – I could dangle under them. I climbed up them quickly with Ella close behind. As I reached the top I realized how far down the ground was, as well as how awkward it was to change directions at the top of the arch.

It had to be too difficult for Ella.

She told me to move out of her way. If I was up there, then she wouldn’t be able to do it by herself. I promised not to talk or touch her, but I wanted to be there in case she needed me. She paused, but agreed.

As she reached the top she appeared to be about to continue all the way over hands, and head, first. But she realized that wouldn’t work and stopped to think. In seconds she began moving again trying to balance both feet and both hands on a single bar to turn.

From this point, the spectacular part is not that she managed to change directions on her own, without my input at all. It isn’t important how she changed directions, what is important is the monologue she kept up when the going got tough.

“Come on Ella, you can do this. It’s just something to climb. You can do this, you can do this….” until she was fully turned around and on her way down. She did it. The biggest smile I’ve ever seen lit up her face. It’s possible that if I interfered, then she wouldn’t have been able to do it. I also might not have seen her smile.

The next day I heard a thump and Agatha crying. When I entered the room my initial focus was not where it should have been and Ella believed I blamed her for Agatha being hurt. She left the room crying – and talking, “It’s always my fault, nothing I do is right, I just want to help, but nothing turns out the way I want it to.” (Please note that this monologue was almost verbatim to something said in a show that day).

Not all children will talk aloud, but I do believe what I heard is a typical internal monologue for the age (4.5) the words used will reflect their own experiences, but the meaning behind them, the feeling is likely the same for most children.

When faced with a difficult task they can talk their own way through it, and it’s important that they do. If I interfered and told Ella how to climb over the arch I would have suggested a different manner than she actually used. It may not have been successful. If it wasn’t, she might believe she couldn’t do it, that she wasn’t capable. It could reinforce to me that she wasn’t ready and then I might interfere more. By not telling her how to do it, or worse telling her not to, we both saw that she could do it on her own. It was difficult, but she didn’t give up.

The other monologue gave me a lot of information. Most importantly it let me know that, even though the conclusion she reached was incorrect, the words and tone/volume of voice deeply effected her. If I had entered the room calmer, I would have realized they were just playing and helped both of them feel better. Instead I burst into the room demanding to know what happened. Luckily I didn’t go so far as to blame anyone – on that front I have been doing much better since deciding blame isn’t necessary.

No parenting book is necessary to realize that by assuming the worst actually made the entire situation worse. If I’d assumed the best of my children, then everything would have been smoothed over faster and easier. And, more importantly, their trust in me would not have been damaged in any way.

Parents have so much influence on their children, but the question is: Should we have as much influence as we do? Might our relationships be better, our children more successful, if we stepped back more than we do?

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