• Conversations with Dr. Donna

    Walking a Mile in Your Shoes

    Dr. Donna Housman       

    From disciplining to vaccinating, parenting is tough and, at times, controversial. Entering the realm is a rather novel concept called ‘free-range’ parenting. I’m sure you are familiar by now of the Maryland couple under investigation for allowing their children (10 years old and 6.5 years old) walk a mile home by themselves. The couple is being criticized for their apparent irresponsibility and neglect.

    If you come from a traditional mindset, these decisions may have shocked you. Like many other parents, you could never imagine your child walking a mile alone anywhere in this day and age. Whether it’s free-range parenting or helicopter parenting, I am not here to criticize or judge any parenting style. But I do want to offer suggestions on how to lead balanced and healthy relationships with your children.

    As the founder of a preschool, I have met with thousands of parents over the years, and I always tell them, “Parenting is the hardest job we’ll ever do. There are no mandated courses for it, and if we are doing it right 51% of the time, we are doing a really good job.” Contrary to the popular book title, I don’t think you ever really know what to expect when you’re expecting. What you can expect, however, is that from the moment your child is born, he is looking at the most important person in his life. You.

    Children develop in the context of a relationship, and you are a critical part of that relationship. Children are born ready to learn; they will look to you, their parents, for the sensitivity, guidance, responsiveness, and direction it takes to learn. One of the many hopes we have as parents is for our children to develop the competence and self-confidence to be able to, in time, walk that mile on their own.

    But in order for our children to walk that mile, they need to walk it with us first. It’s like riding a bike. Children need to understand how to navigate the inevitable failures, fears, and dangers of this world through our words, our instructions, our actions and their experiences. These interactions provide the foundation for connection and independence, promoting   learning opportunities that allow for both parties to hold up a mirror; parents will learn what is most helpful for their child’s growth and development and in turn, the child will learn to trust his parent with that responsibility.

    Independence is designed and achieved with mini steps along the way; for example, your child can’t ride a bike without a few months on training wheels. Becoming independent will happen over time with your guidance, patience and permission to let go while staying connected.

    Children cannot grow and develop in a healthy way without you–their primary socializer. I know it’s an important responsibility, but knowing how to help your child achieve a strong and healthy sense of self is the first of many steps you are taking right now.

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