Raising children to become the adults they will one day turn out to be can be difficult, as finding the right balance of letting go (at the right time) can be hard.
An effective way to understand this is to view raising a child through the metaphor of teaching a child to ride a bike.
When I taught my son to ride a bike it went something like this…
At first he would ride his bike with training wheels and I’d move his feet and model what to do, encouraging, supporting and guiding. Building confidence and exploring the world in the safety of our backyard, he would then ride around and experience what it’s like to ride with the safety of knowing that the training wheels would help him balance.
But at some point he realised he wanted more, and the time came for taking off the training wheels. While a little scary (for both of us) it was also exciting, because it meant exploring a new world but also brought the possibility of risk: falling off and causing pain. Was I going to be able to let go? Did my son take the risk?
This meant going to a local park and running alongside my son as he rode down a gentle hill – this required a little more letting go (but being able to keep up with him was reassuring for both of us) as I was able to help him balance and if he did fall (which he did) he experienced a soft landing (and a cuddle as well as some support).
After mastering this stage he was soon riding down our footpath, and I was running alongside him and catching or helping him whenever there was a wobble. This was quite challenging, demanding, and time consuming, and sometimes I was not able to keep up and had to let go (knowing that at any time he could fall and when he did – it would really hurt!)
Eventually he started riding by himself on the road in front of our house while I sat back and watched – again letting go.
Now he rides with his friends in our neighbourhood.
For me this was difficult as it has meant really letting go and allowing my son to take responsibility and control. While I can give instructions, make sure his helmet is on, and even remain nearby, I have to trust that everything we have done up to this point has allowed him to make good choices and take responsibility…and most importantly as a parent, I have let go.
Our kids need the support and guidance of parents – like the training wheels as they learn new skills and tackle new challenges. However, over time, if we want our children to be fully functional, independent, and take responsibility, we have to take the training wheels off.
For a while it’s good and appropriate to control the environment – to give freedom within certain boundaries – like riding in the backyard or riding down a gentle hill, but once your child demonstrates they can generally handle that, you move to the footpath and run alongside. As you see them grow and develop, you begin to let go and eventually they’re riding on their own.
Like any metaphor, the message and meaning can be different for different people, however I find it helpful in thinking about how to parent. It can be difficult to take the training wheels off, or to let go and allow our children to take risks (and possibly hurt themselves) but the training wheels become counter-productive at some point (as is running alongside and holding on) so we need to be able to let go gradually…and at the right time.
If you find this balance difficult, talk to another parent or trusted friend, as they will have most likely encountered similar problems or difficulties, and have the experience or perspective to assist. However, if you think you need more support or feel a little stuck, please feel free to contact us here at Attuned Psychology and one of our experienced Psychologists can support you (and your child if necessary) to help with the challenges of parenting and letting go.
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