If you are a parent, you want to ensure safety when you give your child freedom. And that seems like a difficult if not impossible target. So what do you do?
You bind them to yourself and refuse to let them go
But that doesn’t work.
Freedom is magical. Nothing makes you feel as powerful and alive as freedom does. When you are free – you feel like there is nothing that you can’t do.
If we want our children feel invincible and powerful we need to set them free.
And if you want to set your child free – this is what you should know
What sort of freedom should we give our children?
Freedom is so easy to demand and so difficult to give – especially when you are a parent.
Letting go of that little hand. Or letting that little face go out of sight, wrings out our hearts and squeezes out our consciences.
It is terrifying to allow our children out into the big bad world and we are scared of letting them out of the fences that hedge them in.
Contrary to what we imagine however, setting children free does not require us to remove all boundaries.
Children in fact do not feel free when they are let out of all boundaries.
What happens when we remove all boundaries?
When there are no boundaries – children feel exposed and constantly fear for their safety. Their anxiety keeps them from feeling free.
Children feel free – when we define large but firm and inflexible boundaries (depending upon the age of the child) for them.
The railings of the crib for example give a baby the freedom to dream and roll to his heart’s content because he knows he will not fall out. Similarly, children feel free in the park because there are walls that keep them out of the danger from moving vehicles – unlike when they are compelled to play on the road.
Why do children push against your boundaries?
Teens constantly push the boundaries that hold them in – but only to make sure that the boundaries are impossible to breach. Only when they know that there are boundaries that will keep them safe – are they able to confidently dream and create.
Children are fully aware of their battle against their own impulses to do things they know are not safe. They know that the odds are stacked against them when they are alone. And when they push against your boundaries – all they are trying to do is, ensure that they are safe.
How much freedom can you give a child without compromising safety?
As we go about parenting our children – every day – almost all the time – we are compelled to choose between what may be good for them (namely safety) – and what may be even better (namely independence).
Should we choose to keep them safe by locking them away from all danger?
Or should we set them free so that they are able to build the skills they require to face and overcome danger?
How do we cultivate our children’s aspiration for independence and autonomy – while keeping them safe?
That is every parent’s daily dilemma.
And when we are faced with this dilemma – it is important for us to remind ourselves that
Only freedom can ensure safety
We cannot keep children safe by physically attaching ourselves to them.
How we can ensure that our children remain safe?
It is only through engaging with the world that children gain the resources to manage risks. It is only when they encounter the dangers of the world first hand – that they develop strategies to deal with these dangers and learn keep themselves safe.
Overcoming danger and coming out safe – is the only way to develop confidence.
Just telling children about the dangers of the world is useless and counterproductive. It can either terrify them or make them dangerously curious and eager to get into dangerous situations.
The only way in which we can ensure safety for our children – is – giving them lots and lots of opportunities to engage with the world.
The 3 Skills your child needs – to stay safe without you present
1. The ability to make good decisions – Stop telling children what to do
Decision making is an art that is perfected with lots and lots of practice.
In our enthusiasm to have trophy children who are “perfect” in all that they do – we often constantly instruct children in what they should do and how they should do it.
This results in children shutting down their brains because they get used to instructions.
A child who is unable to think will be not be able to think his way out of threatening situations and this can be dangerous
Allowing children time for free play is one of the most important ways to help them learn and practice decision-making.
What do I want to do now? Whom do I want to play with now?
Making such small decisions every day helps the child learn how decisions are made and also that decisions have consequences.
2. A well-defined personality – Allow children to be themselves
In our enthusiasm to see our children as our own mirror images, we sometimes forget that our children are born unique and different from us.
It embarrasses us to see qualities in our children that we don’t understand. And it prompts us to constantly prevent children from doing what they want to do and saying what they want to say. As a result of this they grow up with grave doubts about their own thoughts and opinions.
It is important to allow children to grow separate from us. We must allow children to be different from us. We must encourage them to be themselves and have no doubts about who they are, what they think and what they want to do in a given situation
Your child will face challenges that are very different from the ones you faced because he has a different personality and is growing up in a different era. He will have to come up with solutions himself. And this will be possible if you have allowed him to grow into an independent person whose personality is not tangled with yours.
3. A degree of immunity to peer pressure – Stop comparing and competing
One of the greatest sources of danger is peer pressure. Children feel pressured to do things that they would otherwise never have done – because they feel compelled to be like their peers.
The seeds of peer pressure are sown by us parents from the moment the child is born.
We compare our child’s behavior, his skills and everything else to every child we encounter. We tell children that they need to be like everyone else. We convey to them that if they don’t do what everyone else is doing they are inferior and not good enough for us.
It is this habit of comparing that makes our children prone to peer pressure and makes them do things that would never have done otherwise – all because they aspire to be like everyone else
Allow children to craft their own definition of success. Support them when they succeed and also when they fail
Remember the Golden rules of giving your child Freedom
A: Teach your child not to fear the unknown. Encourage them to explore, discover and conquer the unknown
B: Infuse confidence and courage in your child. Teach them to be bold.
All the freedom in the world is useless unless you have the courage to use it to your advantage.