Holding Back

Holding back is one of the hardest things I think we can do as parents.  I don’t mean holding back love or responsiveness because those should never be held back, but rather our urge to jump in and either help or correct our children’s behaviours.  In our urge to make everything “perfect” for them, to teach them, or to guide them we have become their biggest inhibitors.  Through our fears or our need to control our own environment, we control our children more that they deserve and certainly more than they need.

But what if we didn’t?

What if we didn’t stop them before they failed at something?  What if when we saw, for example, our child about to mess up a block tower they had been working on by putting a block in the wrong spot, we held back from stopping their move to show them a “better” place?  Instead, what if we just watched them fail, comforted them if needs be (which usually it isn’t), and then watched them learn from their mistake?  If we held back, we might get the opportunity to watch our kids figure it out on their own, and that is an exciting thing to witness.

What if we didn’t demand an apology the moment they did something that we feel deserved one?  What if we held back the urge to say, “Say sorry” or “That wasn’t very nice” or “Your friend is hurt” and let our children explore the situation themselves?   It’s hard not jumping in here, but if we don’t, we might just witness them coming a few moments later with an honest-to-goodness apology instead of a terse, forced one.  We might get to witness sincere regret and know that our children have truly internalized the lesson of making amends.

What if we didn’t stop an undesirable behaviour before it starts?  What if, when we saw those wheels working and we get that parental intuition that our kids are about to do something we may have just asked them not to do or that we know they know not to do, that we watch them but see what they do?  They might go ahead and do it because they don’t have that internal stop button working quite yet, but they might not.  If we don’t hold back, we’ll never know when they are finally able to stop themselves and avoid the temptation of whatever it is that they were contemplating.  In fact, we may even prevent them from developing that ability to stop.  Regardless, though, we will miss seeing them think things through and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

What if we didn’t try to dictate how they play, especially with us?  What if we refrained from trying to make order out of what can seem like children’s chaotic, imaginative worlds and just went with it?  What if we played whatever they wanted to play, no matter how illogical or missing a narrative it was?  If we held back the need to make it make sense to us, we might get a chance to see how it makes sense to them.  We might free ourselves from our own little box and be a part of something fun and crazy.  After all, playing with a kid who gets to lead is like having your very own improv class at home, and if you follow along, you may expand your own creativity.

In short, what if we were to learn to let go with our kids and let them develop on their own?  If we learn to pause for a moment and wait things out?  As hard as it is in a world where we strive for control and schedules and rules and regulations, it can be unbelievably freeing.  Imagine a world where your child isn’t afraid to fail and in turn tries all sorts of things, willing to learn from each mistake?  A world where your child learns to read people and situations because your child’s been given a chance?  A world where your child’s creativity isn’t stifled by your own set of expectations around play?  A world where you learn to play too?  Can you imagine that?  All you have to do is hold back.

By Tracy Cassels

February 10, 2014