Trust is something that is gradually and painstakingly built, even among adults. Yet when it comes to children we are often told we are helping them be brave when we leave them with people we and they hardly know.
Is it over protection to keep your children more directly under your guidance or is it what they really need? Who gets to decide what is best? That is what this discussion addresses.
Today’s topic is protecting your child versus teaching interpersonal skills to your children. I very specifically chose the words for this title. I was thinking in terms, first, of what people usually talk about and they tend to talk about socialization versus security and I didn’t want to use those words, specifically “socialization” because for one thing, it’s very vague and for another there’s so much baggage with it as people talk about it.
I think that they’re not really addressing the issue as fully as they need to. So I chose “protecting versus”, and I said “versus teaching interpersonal skills”, but I don’t think they’re at odds, I don’t think it’s one or the other and that’s partly what we’re going to talk about.
I’m going to begin this discussion by again reinforcing the idea that the parent-child bond is very special. Children get security from that – their parents, and when they feel that security they are more able to learn.
There has been a trend over the last generation to send children off to experts at younger and younger ages. And things, words, are used like, “oh that’s brave,” the child is being “brave”, the parents are being “brave”, but I think that is very manipulative vocabulary. Because you can’t just call something brave and make it right.
It’s kind of like the old childhood game of I Dare You. Children would dare other children to do things of various levels of stupidity and danger and would taunt the child under, that was getting the particular attention at the moment that if they didn’t do it they were somehow not brave, or even ignorant. Like they had some ignorant fears that were keeping them from doing this thing that the other kids were taunting them with.
And obviously parents are known for saying things like “Well, if your friends dared you to jump off a cliff, would you do that?” And I think that as parents we can apply that same mindset, well so, what if other parents are saying “Well, you need to be brave and do this”? It’s just a different version of the I Dare You game.
They might as well be saying, “Oh, are you brave enough to ride a bull?”, or “Are you brave enough to leave your wallet on the park bench?” These are not things that you do in real courage. At best, riding a bull should only be done by someone in very specific circumstances and something like leaving your wallet on the park bench is generally not very smart.
I think we could reasonably ask if it is brave to send your small children away in the care of other adults when the small children have no recourse, really, to protect themselves should various things happen. They also don’t have the maturity and the information in their experience to help them evaluate things in the safest and most meaningful ways. That’s what parents are for.
And a parent can’t help do that if a parent is not with a small or younger child and, as a benchmark, I usually use the ages of around 12 or 13, when a child can be independent in a safe way. Until around that age, it really behooves a parent to make very very sure of the character and responsibility that they can count on in other adults that they leave their children in the care of.
Another important aspect of this is that you lose precious time with the child, when you are the parent of the child, and you give those parenting opportunities and responsibilities to someone else, when the child is with them for many hours during the day.
So let’s cross over now into the idea of teaching your children interpersonal skills while you are protecting them, providing that secure environment for them so that they have someone that they can trust to talk about things with when they happen, as you go about doing the shopping, or studying the history, whatever it is.
With the level of security and communication that comes from spending that kind of time with your child, discussions about the world will become much more natural and more frequent and you will be able to explain things that will help them develop very solid interpersonal skills that will be both to their benefit, helping them to evaluate things in a way that guards them from important mistakes or helps them take hold of good opportunities and also is better for other people.
When a parent is present, watching or able to be easily contacted, the parent is better able to evaluate what is really going on and give the child the kind of input that actually makes sense in the moment. Then later, you have the ability to discuss people and interactions in honest, humble ways that help the child evaluate good choices and good attitudes towards the other people involved. You help them to know what their own advantages are and to be aware of what other people’s challenges in things might be, but come up with good options for how to respond in the future for similar situations, or with the same people again.
When a child is with a parent in a home teaching kind of environment, they have more freedom of movement and then the parent-child interaction is not limited to this time at the end of the day when the child has been cooped up for so long and just needs to get out and stretch their legs or when the parents are trying so hard to get dinner and things ready. Basically, you want to help the children develop the skills of talking to non-immediate family members without abandoning them to the struggle for survival.
In some ways you can compare the idea of using an institution to teach interpersonal skills to a swimming pool. If a child is small, weak, doesn’t know how to swim, do you just toss them into the middle of the swimming pool and say “You’ll learn, that’s the best way. Full immersion into the situation.”
Or do you take them individually, carefully for their own safety, teach them the skills they need and as you can see that they are able to exhibit safe skills, then you allow them a little bit more freedom without worrying about them? Even if there is a lifeguard, you’re not going to let a small or immature child near water without a very specific, closely attached adult taking care of them.
We can also use this analogy to point out that even if a child feels very safe and wants to be adventurous, a parent is in the best position to be able to evaluate that and to keep a child from hurting themselves.
So, to summarize. It makes a lot of sense for parents to provide security while they coach their children in interpersonal skills. And the burden of proof should be on the people who want to separate children from parents, and not on the parents who want to keep engaging with their children and taking care of them.
If you have any particular comments or questions on this topic, I would love to hear from you.
I also want to mention that in the near future I will be re-recording my series ‘52 Weeks to a Better Relationship with Your Child’ so that it will fit better with this podcast. I hope you found this subject encouraging and inspiring and that if you have, you will take a moment and rate it on iTunes so that other people can find it.
Thanks for listening and see you next time.