I was driving the other day after just leaving the house hearing my boys (16 and 18) arguing about who put gas in the car last, who drives more than the other, and what they're going to do about it. It was a bit heated and as the mom, hard to listen to because their relationship is an important one and always will be in their lives. But, my thoughts turned to how important it is to allow our children to live through the gritty moments of life-the difficult times-the uncomfortable times-because they provide such opportunity for figuring things out, learning to show grace and build confidence because they are working hard to make a way for themselves. When my 2nd son started driving we knew the boys would be sharing a car and believe me, I was a bit nervous as to how that would work out. But, it's been better than I expected and they have had to figure out a lot through sharing a car. They're both busy-they have social lives, love to fish, play baseball, golf, jobs etc. They have to take turns-they have to make decisions-they have to give in-they have to be on a schedule if one needs the car at a certain time etc. This small situation in both of their lives is an ongoing opportunity to resolve conflict, build their relationship and mature through some of the tough stuff life has to offer.
What I'm finding a lot with some of our young families is that parents want to protect their children from being uncomfortable, sad, or going without something. This can very dangerous. We know from being in the classroom everyday that kids are adaptable, can make decisions, can think critically about situations, ask great questions, can process through challenging processes, love one another, show grace, and can solve conflict and are ok if they are disappointed or sad for a brief time. Bouncing back, living through difficult things, then realizing it's ok, is a huge life skill. As our kids grow up, we can not keep them from the ick side of life. We can not keep them from having their feelings hurt, not having a turn, not being invited, being sick, etc. What we can do is believe in them-always, no matter what-believe in them for who they are and believe they can! Our messages we send subtly with how we interact with our kiddos can be very powerful. Jumping in each time things get tough sends a message of 'You need my help to get through this'. I'm here to tell you, they really don't. Certainly, we, as parents, are guiding, supporting, loving along the way as well as taking opportunities to talk/share, but we have to give kids the space/time breathing room to act on their own in their own lives. What does this look like for preschoolers? Well, giving children freedom to be part of the process when choosing meals, clothing, activities for the day etc. Don't second guess their decisions-don't ask them several times 'are you sure?', quietly allow them to choose, then observe. You will be so amazed at what you see. In the classroom, we get to see this play out everyday and it's astonishing to us what we see-amazing really! For example, it's 45 degrees and your child chooses not to take a jacket into school . Allow that decision to play out. They are learning what 45 degrees is-us telling them it's 'cold' or 'chilly' is too abstract. They need to experience the outcome of their decision-this would be considered a natural consequence. The outcome might be they will get cold. Or, maybe they won't-kids are little hot boxes and don't feel temperature in the same way we do. Ultimately, we want kids to know how to read their own bodies not only when dressing themselves, but also eating. We shouldn't be afraid! They are wired to do this-Maria Montessori says children are constructing themselves-they are learning about themselves and they are pretty darn good at it, if we can step aside a bit and allow them some space.
Going to the bathroom is another example where parents can just listen for their child's clues. Asking a child constantly if they have to go to the bathroom can be frustrating. Again, the message we send is 'you need our reminding to listen to your body'. There's nothing wrong with occasionally reminding-particularly in the beginning of potty training, but be careful about over doing it. Too many words lead to no message being heard at all. Please don't force your child to use the bathroom-if you ask, they say no, leave it at that. It's ok if you aren't going to be near a bathroom or you're traveling a long distance. If they say no, they can probably wait. And, if not, they may have an accident and that's ok too. There's a lot of room for grace-understanding and patience when it comes to children learning. They are IN process-they don't have it figured out (and, frankly neither to do we :)).
Be mindful of when you move in and disrupt an opportunity for your child to express themselves or make a decision. Don't be afraid of what they may want to do. Talk to them about what they're thinking-what their plan is etc. They have some pretty creative thoughts and ideas-let them practice at home while they're under your care and they will amaze you! Also, try not to overact when things don't go well, or when feelings are hurt. Showing compassion and empathy is wonderful, but trying to make it go away or fix it quickly is not necessary.