Since I've become a parent, I have seen MANY articles, essays, books, etc. that support the idea that failing and falling are good for building resilience and self reliance in a child. While I support this idea, I have recently found difficulty with one aspect of this tenant. How the heck am I supposed to watch without stripping years off my life?!?!?!?
I first encountered my side of the fear this summer when Joshua decided it was fun to propel himself into the ocean and let himself get knocked down by waves. The undertow, he thought, was just icing on the cake. On my part, what started out as a cringe while watching him, turned into a smile as I remembered how much fun I had doing the exact same thing when I was younger. (I think I had the decency to wait until I was 10 or so to scare my mother in a similar way.) Then, the reminiscent smile mixed into a strange emotional cocktail with the current fear.
How could I deal with this. How can I let Joshua explore his limits sometimes successfully, and sometimes not, without always feeling edgy or worried about him? It is not a full-proof plan, but here are some things I've come up with:
Enjoy the fact that he has grown enough to want to take (and enjoy) the risk.
This tactic really helped me at the beach. I thought back to the beginning of the summer and how we would get onto the sand and stop. Joshua was close enough to the water for his comfort. He stopped 2 inches into the sand and started digging with his beloved construction vehicles. Ah, how I longed to be closer to the water on that first trip. Now, at the end of the summer, he was flinging himself into the sea! Three months is a lifetime of change for a four year old (and his parents).
Remember, if it works great, if not he'll try again.
As, an adult, this is (would be) a great skill to have. And, as a 4.5 year old, Joshua's got it (and I hope he does not lose it). A few afternoons ago, Joshua was super-tired, but naps lead to really, really hard bedtimes; so, we were trying to push through the day to an early bedtime. The afternoon looks something like this: Joshua has absolutely no energy to play, but an incredible desire to do so. The reality of this is that Joshua plays hard and bumps his knee twice (in the same spot), plants his head into his headboard, whacks his hand on the door jamb, and, for a grand finale, walks into a wall. As sad as this all sounds (and it really, really was) it was also a testament to his ability to try again and keep a good attitude.
Think through your reaction to your child's success or failure.
Nothing makes that super high jump and somersault off the bed landing just two short inches away from the pile of soft pillows you set up to cushion your fall worse than your mother standing there with a horrified look on her face. (Although, one could ask, if your mother was standing right there, why the heck did she let you do it in the first place?)
So, what is the appropriate reaction? It depends on your child. For Joshua, if he is not crying, a quick verbal check to make sure he is OK and then continue on with the daring jumps. If he is
crying, some comfort but taking his lead on how much comfort to give. It can range from a quick check on the bump to a full-on curl up on my lap and cry. When he says he is OK, I have to take his word for it, and let go (even if I just want to hold him for the rest of the night.)
Having this strategy worked out ahead of time reduces my panic because I don't have to assess the situation AND decide how to react. I already know my reaction and have a very easy test for assessing the situation: crying or not crying.
If all else fails, just close your eyes.
Some people might find this a cop out. However, the simple fact that your eyes are open or closed for a second will not determine what happens when your child hurls down a hill on his bike at top speed screaming with glee the whole way. But it may keep you calm for the moment longer that you need to remain composed to react properly to his success or failure. If he falls off his bike, you will be in a better mental state to deal with his emotional or physical injuries if you aren't panicked from watching the fall. On the other hand, if he makes it to the bottom of the hill, it will be much easier to celebrate his success without a horror-stricken look on your face.
What your best "did you see that, mom/dad" moment?
How do you keep a calm look on your face?
Tags: scary, trying, failing, success, failure, cry, risk, resilient