Our last newsletter article talked about the problems created by “snow plow parenting”. We discussed Jonathan Haidt’s idea of preparing your child for the road versus preparing the road for your child and the attempt some parents make to eliminate obstacles from their kids’ lives instead of parenting toward autonomy. While this sounds wonderful in theory, how do parents practically put this into practice, parenting in a way that safely encourages and builds both autonomy and confidence?
While on vacation in Florida, I had the honor of watching an example of parenting toward autonomy in action. One of our vacation adventures included kayaking and paddleboarding on the intercoastal over to a small island and back again. My wife and daughter paddleboarded while my son-in-law and I kayaked with each of their two kids, aged 4 and 6. We enjoyed the trek over, saw some beautiful fish in clear water, and spent some time swimming and playing on the island. While we were on the island, my 6 year old granddaughter announced she wanted to try paddleboarding. At this request, her father took her out on a paddleboard and taught her how to balance and paddle while he carefully swam near her in the small cove. She thoroughly enjoyed the experience!
After a little more time playing on the island, we headed back across the water with the kids in each of the kayaks, being watchful of approaching boats, wind, and small waves. After circling the island, my granddaughter said that she wanted to try paddleboarding across the intercoastal, despite oncoming boat traffic. Her parents, without hesitation, allowed her to try it while they kayaked close by. After giving up the security of the kayak, my granddaughter bravely paddleboarded across some difficult water with some small waves and, with great pride, beached the paddle board on the other side of the intercoastal waterway. It was beyond amazing to watch her sense of pride and mastery, not to mention boaters stopping to watch.
So, what did I learn from this about parenting towards autonomy?
5 valuable lessons, compliments of my daughter and son-in-law...
At the end of the day, we all know that we have our children for a short period of time. We want them to have successful lives, which means that this time needs to be filled with experiences that allow them to find their own passions, build their confidence, and expand their potential. Developmentally, as kids get older, they need more of these experiences, more freedom, and more opportunity to build confidence.
A significant part of parenting toward autonomy is to help create these opportunities and provide support along the way. At some point our children will not have the nearby “kayak” for support and they will have to “paddleboard” through life relying on the skills they have been taught by their parents.