Today, my little sister came over to use the pool. She’s been in swimming classes for a few years now, and she’s a pretty strong swimmer as long as she’s wearing some kind of floatie. Today, however, she jumped right into the pool wearing only her swimsuit, without waiting for anyone else to get into the water with her. Her mom and I sat on the edge of the pool, a little bit stunned. She wasn’t in any real danger, of course, but watching her struggle to make it over the ladder was difficult.
It made me think about how parenting is often a delicate balance between knowing when to help your child and when to let him or her struggle. There’s a fine line between swimming and sinking, and it’s hard to know when the boundary is being crossed, both literally and metaphorically. As my little sister flailed around in the pool, my immediate reaction was to reach in and help her make her way to the edge of the pool. I didn’t want to see her struggling. However, I managed to fight the impulse, and she eventually did get back to the ladder entirely of her own power. After a few minutes of watching her, I realized that although she was struggling to swim, she was still managing to accomplish her goals. Sure, it took her longer than if I or her mom had swept in to take charge, but the smile on her face when she reached the floating pool chair was something that could have come only from the pride of doing something all by herself.
You might think that the struggle of whether or not to intervene lessens as kids get older, but I think it might only get stronger. After all, the decision to take five extra minutes in the morning to let your son dress himself or your daughter tie her own sneakers is fairly simple. The greatest danger is your son goes to school with his shirt inside-out and your daughter’s shoelaces come untied before she even makes it on the bus. As kids get older, though, the stakes become higher. The mistakes have greater consequences.
Parenting isn’t about being in control of your kids, though. It’s about offering support. As your child gets older, they have to learn to become more independent, and that means you as a parent have to step back. Making the decision about when it’s time to intervene isn’t simple, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
How do you know when it’s time to intervene in your child’s decision making?