Parenting: Roots and wings

September 20, 2012

Most parents want their children to be family-centered and value-oriented, plus down-to-earth and always safe. So you give them roots or life lessons to teach them what matters, who they should rely on, when to worry and when to let go, and how to prioritize. But most of us also want our kids to be independent, to have some adventures and growth opportunities, to learn life lessons to help them mature. That's where the wings come in. If you hold on too tightly, your children might end up relying on you as an adult, being too afraid to try new things in life, being clingy and insecure. So it's a balancing act that parents often struggle with. Did I give too much space to grow? Did I clip their wings and hold them back too much?

The new book, INTERACTIVE MODELING by Margaret Berry Wilson, offers some great guidance for teachers, parents and friends of kids. It's part of the Responsive Classroom published by the Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc. The ideas can apply to small children, like my twin 2-year-olds, and older kids, like my 12-year-old. I think the suggestions can be adapted to fit most children's personalities.

For example, I take my small children on a morning walk around our neighborhood. I let them ride their small ride-on car and truck so they can both get some exercise and feel some independence. But I teach them not to get too far from each other or me so that we can cross streets and watch for cars together.

When Hunter and Zeke keep a steady pace, I make sure to say "Good job staying with Hunter/or Zeke." If one gets a bit further away than I like, I says "Hunter, stop please so Zeke and I can catch up. We have to stay together."

The same applies if one wants to go one direction, and the other wants to go the opposite way. I try to split the difference, which is not so easy to explain to 2-year-olds, but it's worth a shot.

"Hunter, let's go to the park this time and later we'll go down the alley to see all the colorful garage doors."

"Zeke, it's Hunter's turn to pick which way we go today. We did what you wanted yesterday." Wilson has some tips to help you:

1. Keep the instructions short.
2. Give a brief explanation of why you're doing it that way. "We want to stay safe." "We like to take turns."
3. Give positive reinforcement often. Draw attention to the positive behaviors you see.
4. Look for cooperation, not absolute compliance. When it comes down to a push-pull between my twins, I generally step in and make a completely different decision that neither of them chose. Unfortunately, that usually means I have 2 crying boys on my hands, since neither got their way. But I explain to them that I gave them a long time to make a choice, and since they couldn't agree, we had to move on. (From the example above --- We didn't go to the park or down the alley, but to the playground.) I have to make sure I have the strength to handle two sad children at once, but the lesson learned is that we take care of each other, take turns and if we can't agree, mom will make a different decision.
5. Keep your expectations realistic. I expect my 12-year-old to handle more complicated decisions and to comply more quickly with group decisions/behaviors. I give my 2-year-olds a few more chances.
6. Have fun. Let a few decision-making moments go. Let your child make an extra selection now and then, let them pick what you're having for dinner…let them pick out what to wear, let them decide which game to play. And throw in an extra scoop of ice cream of a treat sometimes just to see them laugh! You'll get more cooperation next time.

Good luck with teaching responsibility, independence, sharing and learning yourself when you should let go!

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