Children bring out our protective instincts but doing too much for them can rebound. The the world out there is tough so the temptation is to lead from the front and checkout everything that is happening. Is it safe? Is it the best use of time? What will they learn? But is being totally in control the best strategy? There is an alternative to the helicoptering tendency but it needs a leap of faith. We need to believe that children can show us what the best choice might be. Don’t think map, think compass. Children are drawn in a particular direction but need us to manage the map reading skills until they are independent.
It’s what nature intended, for us to tune into what children are doing so we can work with their inner strengths and pace of development. This is positive and mindful parenting. You listen to your own fears less and instead focus on what your child is showing you that they need. No, not the shopping list for trainers or ice-cream but the signs and signals that show you what floats your child’s boat and feeds their curiousity.
When you tune into your child more and your own fears less you can stand back a bit and let your child make a few decisions. Day by day they can do more for themselves and learn how to make things happen from start to finish. This is not hands off parenting, or benign neglect because parents need to stay very closely involved in their child’s life, but not remaining 100% in the driving seat. Children need to discover who they are, what they like and how to make things happen. This experience needs to be safe and age appropriate to protect but not pamper.
I have met so many children now whose lives are so structured and controlled that they are freewheeling into the future with no engagement with what is happening to them. They often have no sense of who they are or belief that they can make things happen. Parents then fear this passivity is a bad sign and the push, pull, panic starts all over again.
Occasionally a child might try something for themselves but as soon as it gets tricky an adult appears and they back off thinking they have failed. If the same thing happened to another child with parents, family and teachers who coach rather than manage the problem would be discussed, options would be explored and things would soon get back on track. One child ends up discouraged while the other is raring to go.
So what children need is less experience of:
- Adults micro managing the day to day details of their lives
- Detailed instructions on how to do things
- Mistakes being something to fear and avoid
- Feeling the future looms over them as something to worry about
- Wondering how what you are doing today will be useful in the future
- People in their lives to be there, cheer them on, comfort them when needed and love them whatever happens
- Feeling trusted to try their best and see what happens
- To see mistakes a signposts to try something different not badges of shame
- Free time to discover their strengths and interests through playful exploration which does not start out with a named purpose or outcome
- A focus on the present to enjoy today and being a child
- Acceptance that they will learn and grow in unpredictable ways so making today brilliant is the best strategy
This is not hands off parenting or benign neglect this is Positive and Mindful Parenting which accepts that it is better to be a mentor than a manager.
Jeni Hooper is a Child and Educational Psychologist specialising in helping children to find their best selves and to flourish. Her book What Children need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and can be viewed here http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Children-Happy-Confident-Successful/dp/1849052395/ref=tmm_pap_title_0