Proverbs 22:6: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it..”
Growing up is hard work. There is no way around it. Along the way, there are skills that have to be mastered, independence that has to be won, responsibility that has to be learned, and fears that have to be faced. Even once you have arrived and are considered an adult, more growing up is still necessary as life will always throw at you new challenges that must be conquered in order to continue to improve your quality of life.
We have a saying in our household: “It is our job as parents to stretch you, but we won’t let you break.” So how exactly do you help your children to stretch and grow and mature without completely breaking their spirit or leaving them feeling like failures when it takes longer than they thought it would to master a new level of independence?
In my opinion, there are four essential ingredients needed to help your child stretch: Encouragement, compassion, patience, and the restart button.
Everyone needs encouragement when learning a new skill, reaching for the next level, or even remaining consistent with skills they have already mastered. Who do you gravitate toward: Someone who cheers you on and believes in you or someone who is quick to point out your mistakes, showing you how it can be done differently or better? Even though instruction is a key ingredient to helping stretch your children, teaching without encouragement makes the process long and slow instead of challenging and fun.
Compassion is essential as well; however, I have to be careful with this one. If I show too much compassion, then I end up taking back the responsibility of the newly learned skill from my child and that backfires. Then my children do not feel the sense of accomplishment that they can do it; instead, they are left feeling like I do not believe in them, which is the opposite of how I truly believe. My husband has mastered the mixture of compassion and encouragement much better than myself. I am still working on improving in this area.
Patience and the restart button are also closely linked. In the process of stretching, there are going to be set backs. It is inevitable. Nothing worth obtaining comes easy, to any of us. Therefore, as parents, we are responsible for keeping our kids on the right track, not allowing them to settle for second best, keeping them focused on the end goal, but at the same time, allowing for mistakes and the need to start over sometimes or even to try a different approach altogether if the first one is not working well. Each child is going to be different and have a different timetable for the mastery of their personal issues. The main focus is that everyone keeps moving toward the desired outcome; not how long it takes to get there.
We have three very different children. One child wants to be grown up tomorrow. Another one wants to eventually, but to have a say in the timetable, and the third one is still not sure how beneficial it is to have all that freedom, knowing how much responsibility goes along with it. Our job as parents is to continue to help our children strive for the goal of independence while surrounding them with encouragement, compassion, and patience. The most essential ingredient of all, packaged up with the others, is love. If your children ultimately know deep down that you love them and desire the best for their lives, then even as you help them master their independence, needing to hit the restart button yourself a few times in your approach, the end result will ultimately be one of victory.