Sunday, 13 October 2013

Preparing your children for the big bad world.

I remember when my first son was about to start school we went to a meeting with the Head Teacher. She told us that the best thing we could for our children was to make them as independent as possible. She said that being able to sit still and concentrate, to be able to listen to an instruction, to be able to get dressed and undressed - these were all skills that would be invaluable.

I thought that this was sensible, sound advice and made sure that my boys were able to do these things. To be honest I had been working on this since they were born. It seemed like common sense for my children to be able to choose their clothes in the morning, dress themselves, use a knife and fork correctly... After my second son's first PE lesson the teacher told me that he had been the only one who had been able, in a class of 30, to undress, fold his clothes, dress for PE and then after the lesson get dressed and put his kit away.

Before you think that this post is going to be a great long brag of how wonderful and incredibly advanced my boys are ... its not. Trust me, if you've read any of my other posts you will know that my boys are a mixture of good, bad, loveable and infuriating...

The reason I'm writing this is because the quest to prepare children for the big bad world starts as soon as they are born and continues. As parents we all do our best, but sometimes its hard to know where the line lies between giving them freedom and being a control freak. I am ... a control freak!

I was chatting with my sister yesterday and we were talking about the perils of drugs. Her son has just started at Uni and my sons are in their teens, so drugs are most definitely on the agenda. The thing is we have to, at some stage, trust our children to do the right thing. We have to trust that we have brought them up to be sensible young people and by teaching them to do things for themselves from an early age we are doing exactly that.

The thing is though that its quite scary to trust them. I know, from working with hundreds of children, that parents don't want to let their babies go. Mums follow their children into school on the pretext of making sure they hang their coat up properly. Children have their crisp packets and snack bars pre-opened so that they don't have to do it themselves. Helloooo???!! Children are picked up, dropped off, dressed ... they have their noses wiped, their food cut up ... And when, all of a sudden they are at school, some of them are absolutely incapable. That is not helping your child.

I once saw myself on a holiday video, following my 16 month around, frightened that he would fall. I hadn't realised how hideous I was. For goodness sake!! I needed to let him find his own way, let him fall. We learn from our mistakes, don't we? Children have to be able to push their boundaries so they learn how to look after themselves in the long run. Its a juggling act of giving them firm 'rules of engagement' so they know where they stand in the great scheme of things, and yet letting them test themselves with new challenges.

I am the first to admit that I am rubbish at this. I am a control freak who wants to keep my boys with me all the time. But I know this is my failing and I've worked hard to try and let them be independent.

When my boys hit 10 I started to let them walk up to the shops by themselves. It terrified me. Some of you may think that I was late letting them do this, but I have always been a bit over-protective. I knew, however, that I needed to let them learn.They knew that they had to use the zebra crossing. What they didn't know was that I used to time their trips initially and stand by the window! It scared me to start with. I would imagine all manner of disaster, but amazingly they survived the peril of buying a loaf of bread. And they thrived in the knowledge that they were grown up enough to walk alone to the shops. I trusted them.

Of course you don't go straight from being a control freak, standing over them so they don't fall, to letting them go on holiday to Ibiza with their mates in one short time span. All this takes time and happens in small steps over the years, obviously. And each child is different. As a parent you know your child's limits and personality.

But, for me, giving your children independence and teaching them life skills is so important. Knowing how to open the top of a yoghurt and how to cut up their own food before they reach school age is really important. There are so many children who can't do these things. So many can't turn their jumpers the right way round if they are inside out. The time between being a toddler and being a teenager goes so quickly and even though they will always be your babies, they don't have to be treated like babies.

We are entering a whole new world now - a world of exams, parties, university ... I cannot be there to bodyguard my sons every step of the way. Can you imagine??! I just have to hope that I have given them the confidence and ability to make their own way. They are responsible for their own lives and actions and I have to trust that if they are faced with a difficult situation they will do the right thing. I have no control over other people, over the future, but by allowing them to 'fall' sometimes I hope they have learned how to avoid falling or, if not, how to get back up again.


joy said...

A great post. My youngest (now 23) always had his head in the clouds as a child, it wasn't that he couldn't do things for himself, its that his mind was always elsewhere. I used to worry so much about him and wondered how he would cope in an adult world, but now he's there he's fine. Joy xx

The Madwoman said...

A great post....and extremely sound advice.

My daughter, now 24, is a horsewoman and I had to make the decision way back when she was ten to trust her ability to make her own judgements.
Back then she amazed me by standing her ground against a much older girl, and one she looked up to, but who was asking her to take risks.
She made the right choice and said no.
Since then I have had my heart in my mouth so many times knowing how dangerous her chosen sport is. But I have never once regretted trusting her.
And she is now highly regarded by her peers for her sound judgements and wise decisions.

Mary @AsturianDiary said...

Brilliantly put. It's so difficult at times not to mollycoddle our children but the greatest gift we can give them is self-confidence and independence. We do indeed need to learn to trust them and allow them to do their own learning. *gulp*

Peg Botham said...

I agree what a great post that only a mother could write or understand.
I wanted mine to stand on their own feet but it didn't stop me worrying when they were older. I didn't worry about drugs I trusted them to be sensible enough not to get involved. When they started going out to nightclubs was my most worrying time, it wasn't until they were safely through the door and I could hear the sounds of the fridge opening and pots coming out of the cupboards I could settle down to sleep and thank The Lord they were back home and safe.
Peg xx

sarah at secret housewife said...

Hello Joy, Madwoman, Mary and Peg

I am so relieved you like my post!! I wasn't sure if I might sound a little too preachy!!! I do think its one of the hardest things to do - to let go and trust your children - but its the best thing you can do. You and your comments prove that!!