By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
As a mom and therapist, I have learned that there are lessons in almost anything we do. Interestingly, one of my latest “lessons” came while I took my son to a pool with a huge inflatable obstacle course. And when I say “lesson,” what I mean is something that I really do know intellectually but, at times, is hard to follow because my emotions might get in the way.
Anyways, what happened is that I took my son to this pool to meet some friends and for him to swim and play on this rather large obstacle course. Despite it being entirely too cold, it was such a fun setup for him to really thrive. You see, my son is enamored with swimming and all things to do with water. He might get scared of amusement parks or small carnival rides at times, but give him a water slide, and he is in heaven. So, this was a great situation for him!
Interestingly though, it was a bit tricky for me to navigate at times. You see, while my son is a “water-safe, independent” swimmer, according to his swim teacher, he often flails about when he is in another pool and especially when he is just with me or his dad. I still remember when he first went swimming with us after becoming a stronger, independent swimmer, and both of us thought that he just might drown because he was barely keeping his head above water at times. Then, we went back to his swim instructor, who told us he had regressed in his skills because we held him too much.
So, that is when we first realized that he can do far more than it might seem he can do. Especially if it is something he can do independently but might wish at times for some help.
Back to my story :) Here we are, in this pool with a huge inflatable course, and he falls off the edge to the other side. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go easily under it as that was against the rules. I remember thinking he would climb back up easily, but when he didn’t, I honestly got a little nervous despite the lifeguard sitting right there watching him (I could see her watching him but couldn’t see him, and he didn’t respond to me). And up until that moment, he had been grabbing onto me often so that he hadn’t been swimming on his own a lot.
First, I tried to wait and thought he would yell to me or pop up somewhere on the course. But he didn’t. So, in my nervousness, I swam around to find him, and what did I see? My son just swimming as happily as can be and easily in this deep water without an issue.
It was at that moment that I recalled my knowledge that kids often will do well when left on their own. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is not save or help them too much. And obviously, this would be a different story if my son was not a strong, capable swimmer. Then, it would have been negligent to wait as long as I did. But in his case, this is an area he clearly excels and does not need a lot of support.
Even while I knew this about him and would give this advice to parents, I had made the same mistake that so many of my clients and other parents make. I forgot just how capable he is and how important it is for him to be able to take calculated risks and demonstrate that capability in order to build his feelings of competence and sense of self.
So often, our instinct as parents is to dive in quickly and save our children from possible mistakes or problems. We can see them coming and know how to avoid them. But the trick is that our kids don’t know that yet, and they will only learn it by experience. While it might be uncomfortable for parents, we need to let them leap out of our little nest and wobble a little as they learn to fly. We can block them from hitting trees, but shouldn't worry about a slight change in course or challenge along the way. That is part of the learning process!
Here are some helpful reminders for all of us parents when it comes to letting our kids take risks:
Also, summer is the absolute best time to allow your kids to take a few more risks! Usually, summer involves different types of activities, time outside, new friends, camp, etc., and these are all opportunities for your child to increase their independence and feelings of capability. Make sure to communicate to them that you have FAITH in their ability to do hard things! That you TRUST their judgment and ability to solve problems when needed. That will be huge, even if the situation is not going as planned for them. So often, kids rise to the challenge. We just need to let them and get out of their way a bit more!
At Thrive, we take a positive, client-centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy we offer in person and telehealth via video sessions, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
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