Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Encouraging Children #6

Alyson Schafer's sixth piece of advice for encouraging children is one of my favorites: Show your trust.  And as she notes in the short entry that follows that advice, "Of course, that means you have to trust your children.  Do you?  Trust must come first."

Okay, I have to admit that it's hard for me to imagine trusting my children and not showing it.  How does that work?  But I digress.

If we want our children to grow up and be independent, confident, and secure in themselves, we must trust our children, and, according to Schafer, show it.   And I think as a society we don't trust our kids.  That's one piece of why I believe we have Velcro parents; parents want to manage the lives of their children into college and beyond.  I think the doting parents do over their children shows an inherent distrust that their children can't make the best decisions for themselves.  Who knows, maybe they can't.  I was at a meeting recently in which a biologist noted that 18 year-old students' frontal lobes aren't fully developed (here).  But how do our children learn to make decisions for themselves once their frontal lobed develop if they never have the chance, or the chance without the parental safety-net/iron maiden?  So how do we trust our children and how do we show it?

I don't claim to be a parenting expect.  In fact, I think I'd put myself pretty far down the scale of parenting know-how.  I don't whoop on my kids.  I figure that's a good start.  Trust, though, comes relatively easy for me with my children in many instances.  Maybe it's laziness or passivity, but I let my kids make lots of decisions for themselves. 

One way that I often share with others is clothing for the outdoors.  My partner and I really try to let our twins decide what they want to wear outside, though we do make suggestions and talk about the consequences of choices.  They decide if they want long sleeves or short, pants or shorts, or jackets, depending on the season.  We occasionally encourage them to go outside and feel the weather before deciding. They do and often change their minds.  Other times, they make a decision I don't agree with or think is down-right ridiculous.  Still, I will let them decide.  And you know what?  They're pretty good at regulating their own body temperature.  If they get cold, they go in the house or get a jacket.  If it's summer and hot, they douse themselves with the hose, strip naked and run around the backyard.  They even like to wallow in the mud like a farrow of piglets to keep cool -- or they just like to play in the mud.  Almost never do they put themselves in danger when regulating their own temperature.  The only time I've seen that problem is when Twin M doesn't want to get out of our neighbor's swimming pool and his lips are blue.  And even then Twin M decides on his own to get out most of the time. 

My point with this ramble about choosing clothing or rolling in mud is that I'm showing them trust to make decisions about their own bodies.  And they nearly always validate that trust.  I could give other examples, such as how much they eat -- we don't make them clean their plates --, how high they can climb a tree, or how fast they should run with sharp sticks (As long as they aren't going to hurt their siblings -- I'm not that trusting yet.).  I show them trust in these things and inevitably they validate that trust. 

Ultimately it's too early to tell the results of this practice, but it's promising.  I'll let you know how it turns out in another 25 years, when their frontal lobes are fully developed.


  1. I admit, I’m a recovering “Velcro Parent.” Although, now, looking back, I wished I had been wiser and thought about parenting more than I did when my kids were young. I more or less tried not to do what my parents did, and do what I wished they would have done. As a result, I did become a very protective parent. Luckily, I was self-aware enough to know that my parenting style had its own share of holes and flaws, so I’ve actively encouraged my kids to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions on my parenting. If they feel something is unfair or I’ve over mommed them, they tell me. Most of the time, that’s all I need to rethink, re-evaluate and let go. I want my kids to be safe, but I also want them to trust themselves and be self-confident like you and Shafer suggest. I’m sure I’ll discover the results of my own parenting soon enough. They are teenagers, and let’s just say our “Mom, we need to have a talk” come much more frequently now. Great post, and great information to share.

  2. Staying in the pool until your lips turn blue sounds like typical kid behavior to me! I see my friends kids do that, too -- even when an adult wouldn't think of getting in water that cold. We probably did the same thing. :)

    I love this blog. You guys are wonderful parents. Heck, I wish you were *my* parents!

  3. @ Cat Bastet: Come on over. Of course you'll have to do your chores and play with dump trucks.

  4. I often find the most challenging part of trusting my child isn't about trusting him. It's about being stalwart enough to stare down the criticism of other parents. How, I wonder, can we trust our kids when we don't event trust ourselves?