When my children were born, I realized what it feels like to have my heart walking around on the outside of my body. In thinking about any illness or challenge coming their way, it would catch my breath. I was swept into the sea of connectedness and now cannot get away from the sense of being responsible for them.
This amazing process, I believe like most things, is a good thing that can go bad. One of the ways that my connection to my children and my sense of responsibility can make things go bad is that I might get involved in ways that are a detriment to their development.
What could this look like? Every season will present a way in which I will get over-involved. This season with young children might look like my discomfort with their discomfort getting in the way of them making mistakes that are necessary and helpful for their development.
Children need to fall to figure out the limits of their physical capacity. They need to struggle through getting the shoes on the right feet so that they can feel the joy of competency when they get it right! They need to struggle through friendship hiccups where they decide traits of friendships that they want to work for versus which relationship dynamics they aren’t too interested in.
If I always set the limits for them, the muscles needed to evaluate their limits and express that to others will not get fully developed. Even in the littlest ways.
We had some family over this weekend, and one of them was playfully rough-housing with my five-year-old. My son realized he did not like what was going on and with a serious and calm voice said, “I do not like that.” I think training our children to get clear on what they do and do not like is valuable. Supporting them in feeling free to communicate that can help with issues like consent, problem solving, and mental health symptoms that come from over-exertion and over-extension.
Depression and anxiety often, in part, stem from living as if one does not have limits in an effort to not disappoint others or one’s self. The freedom to have limits is a gift we pass along to our children.
So, you hear me saying to on-purpose use restraint and let your children make mistakes in lots of small ways all day long!? Yup! Why would someone trudge through the inconvenience, stress, discomfort and fear of this? I’m so glad you asked.
When we get into the position of allowing our children’s behavior and mistakes to stimulate us to the point that we cannot tolerate the frustrating process of learning, we actively stunt their growth. When my children work to put on their shoes, I do deep belly breathing.
I know that my own urgency and feelings of expectation around time are not a fair reason to shortchange the many moments of trial and error that it takes to learn an important life skill. When we learn something new, there are normal emotions associated. Frustration, anger, helplessness, and despair are some of them. These often make way for elation, joy and celebration of a new competency – but our patience is required.
Calming one’s own self down will be a requirement to make room for the messy growing our children need to do.