How do you know when it’s time to push your kids through hard stuff and when it’s time to bring them close to shelter them? When do you “rescue” your kid and when do you let them venture out to learn on their own?
Great question. There’s no easy answer.
My parenting has been a mix of doing the right thing such as pulling my son out of school in grade 4 after having a bout of suicidal thoughts, a 3 week hospital visit only to result in severe anxiety in school that shut him down. Bringing him home was the best decision I ever made because it allowed his mind to rest from anxiety and come back to balance.
But I’ve also swooped in many times to fix my son’s problems numerous times when I should have let him learn on his own. I wish there was a manual to follow regarding this.
I’ve been reflecting on this and here’s when I personally feel we need to rescue our kids and keep them close to us.
You bring them closer when…
When anxiety has shut them down. Have they experienced something traumatic? Has a transition happened in life that has thrown them off? Grief? A significant life change? This is no time to tell them to suck it up. Sometimes when they say they can’t, they CAN’T. When you’re in the back of your brain it becomes hard to do the easiest task. They need you to give them a safe space to feel all the feels, rest when needed, and even be disregulated. They don’t have the reasoning skills to sort out everything going on outside and inside of them. Bringing them close takes them from the back of their brain back to the prefrontal cortex where they can reason and problem solve. It’s very important when they are showing signs of anxiety not to try and reason with them or seek to “fix”. This will only make their anxiety worse.
Watch out for this…
Some kids will try hard to bury it and “perform” for you in the way they feel you want, which is dangerous to their mental health. Others will meltdown or have an anxiety attack. Best thing to do in these cases is to hold them, tell them they are not alone and that you love them, and empathize with their emotions. “That must feel frustrating.”
If we push our child during times of severe anxiety, we could cause some damage inside their sensitive hearts, or worse, let them become performance and approval driven, only doing what you desire in order not to disappoint. This is more dangerous than any kid who talks back or shows emotion. You WANT open communication, to be able to talk deeply about issues that are affecting them mentally and emotionally. You need them to know that you are with them to support them along the way, especially when they don’t do life perfectly.
When do you let them fail?
You let them learn on their own when their anxiety has lessened. The only way we become resilient is working through hard stuff. Bringing them closer means you are a safe refuge in the middle of their storm, but they have to face the storm.
How do you know when they face their storm alone? You don’t. It changes. It changes as they age, as they go through different experiences. We need to ask them what they need. Sometimes they don’t know how to answer. This is why we need to lean in and be a high alerted observer. There’s always something going on underneath their behaviour. We need to listen and see what’s going on underneath for them and if they need us.
Some days I am bang on with what my kids need. Other days I’ve missed the boat completely and have enabled them to not persevere when they should have. I have created entitlement at times. We don’t know everything all the time because we are human and imperfect parents – which is OK! The only way to learn is to be in the arena with our kids. When we get it wrong, it’s important we learn from it and move forward. You don’t have to get this perfect.
Read that again.
The time to push them, the time to let them learn through experience and sometimes fall flat on their face is when you have brought them close for awhile and they are now ready to take a few steps. Let them go. Let them take a few steps, maybe 4, maybe 10. Evaluate as you go. Let them know they’re not alone. Let them fall. Let hard things happen to them.
What sabotages resilience
You know who finds it the most hard when my boys go through hard things? ME! You know who it affects the most when my boys have trouble finding friends, or are struggling with finding their place in their world? ME! I put myself right back in Junior high school with them and my first reaction is to rescue. You know what I do when I do that? I wreck any chances of resilience developing in them.
In resilience studies all it takes is for a young person to have 1 steady adult in their life who believes in them. It is not time to bring them close when you want to rescue them because of how their struggles are affecting you.
Parenting is a relationship not based on textbook, but on REAL LIFE together. The only way to know what your child needs is to be right in the thick of life WITH them.
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