Play your part by stepping back, allowing your children to develop problem-solving skills, writes Christy Herselman.
We have just returned from an incredible surf trip to a beautiful little town in the Eastern Cape. While we were there, one of my 13-year-old twins, Ryan, had to work through a tough but character-building experience.
One morning we had taken all the surfboards and wetsuits down to a friend’s house, which was close to the beach, so the kids could grab their stuff whenever they wanted to hit the water. The boys went off to a nearby town for a bit while I went down to the sand with a friend.
A few hours later, when the kids wanted to surf, Ryan discovered that his board wasn’t with the others. It had been forgotten back at our chalet. He left his brand-new wetsuit with a friend near the surf spot and decided to skate the kilometre and a half back to our chalet to get his board. When he got there the house was locked, so he had to climb through a window. On his way back, skating with his board, he fell twice. When he got back to the rocks, everyone (and his wetsuit) was gone. He started to search for them and it was at this point that I bumped into him as I came off the beach. I could tell that he was on the brink of tears.
I joined the search and after a while we found that his wetsuit had been left with some other friends who were sitting, hidden from plain sight, further down the beach. Ryan breathed a huge sigh of relief, suited up and paddled out to backline.
When Ryan told me the whole story later, I knew he had been through something hard, navigated a range of emotions, got a little banged up and had to dig deep, but he had done it, and I was immensely proud of his courage, initiative and problem-solving.
At this point, you may be questioning my parenting but I have been very intentional in developing these skills in my kids from a young age. And school provides a great opportunity for our kids to do this, but we are going to have to play our part. Mostly that involves stepping back. This year there will be teachers your child doesn’t like, tests they might not do well in, sports teams they might not make, lunches and PE kits they are going to forget at home. To develop initiative, grit and problem-solving skills in your child, here are a few things you can do:
• Don’t come to their rescue too quickly. A forgotten PE kit provides a great opportunity for your child to have a tough conversation with a coach, to think of how to solve the problem (borrow from lost property?) or to feel the pain of sitting out while his friends have fun on the field.
• Make home a safe place to talk about mistakes and navigate “failure”. Let them talk without jumping in with solutions. When things go wrong, allow your child to process what happened, how they could have perhaps dealt with the situation better and figure out a way forward.
• Don’t try to fix everything. You don’t have to email the teacher every time your child has a bad day or intervene every time there is a friendship spat. These are invaluable opportunities to develop important conflict-resolution skills your child needs for adulthood.
• Treat your children like they are competent and you believe in them. Wrapping them in cotton wool will breed anxiety and stunt emotional growth. Giving them freedom to try, fail, pick themselves up and keep going is not easy – but it is an incredible gift to your child.
And I can pretty much guarantee that, like I did that day at the beach, you will realise that your child can do hard things. And that when life throws him a curveball, he has creative ideas and capacity to remove whatever obstacles standing between him and the perfect tube.
Please get in touch with Christy at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thechat.co.za for more info.