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Category: Relationships / Topics: Learning Opportunity Parenting, Parents Relationships

Let Kids Learn to Do Things Their Own Way

by Ken Potts

Posted: September 29, 2019

Lessons from a winter mini-vacation…

Nat, age 3 at the time, launches herself down the hill. A huge grin on her face, she doesn’t worry about how fast she’s going, who is in the way, or whether she is doing “snowplow” turns as her ski instructor has requested. A natural, she just lets it happen.

Her older brother Alex, age 7, starts off cautiously. Jaw set, brow furrowed. It’s almost as if he is going to think himself to the bottom. He tries hard not to pick up too much speed, watches his skis to make sure they are angled just right, and carefully maneuvers around the other beginners on the slope.

Both my kids did make it. Each in his or her own way was learning to ski on our winter mini-vacation. And had their older sister Amy been along, she would have demonstrated yet another method of approaching the sport (I call it the “learning through wandering around” technique).

Watching, it was all that I could do not to yell after Natalie that she should slow down, be more careful and follow instructions. On the other hand, I had to stop myself from skiing after my son and pleading with him to just relax and not try so hard.
But both my kids did make it. Maybe not my way, but they did make it. And they were both obviously proud of themselves for their accomplishment.

I think it is awfully difficult for us parents to sometimes stand back and let our children do things their way. Often, they seem to make things so hard for themselves. If they’d learn the way we learn, do it our way, it would be so much easier.

The fact is, though, that we all do learn differently, and often do things differently, too. And more often than not it really doesn’t matter all that much how we learn, or how we do it, just that we do learn to do it.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we let our kids figure everything out for themselves. I’m not in favor of experiential learning, for example, when it comes to a preschooler and speeding cars.

Nor do I believe that any way of doing something is just as good as any other way. There is a safe way to drive a car, and I expect my teens to drive that way.

Offering assistance or advice is certainly part of being a parent. There will be times, too, when we need to impose that assistance or advice in the best interests of our children.

There are plenty of times, however, when our children do need to learn or do things their way, even if the way
they learn and what they do doesn’t fit for us. It may not be the easiest, fastest, most efficient, or best way from our perspective, but it is their way nonetheless.

Of course, when we do let our kids do it their way, we pay a price. We have to sit with the worry, anxiety, fear and pain we parents experience when we see our children struggle.

And because we believe that if we made them do it our way we could protect them from this struggle, we can even wind up feeling a bit guilty. This parent stuff is not easy.

Anyway, both my youngest children came away from their first-time ski experience excited and ready to go again. I suspect part of this is because they did get the chance to do it their way. They were ready to learn more because their way of learning was respected.

Maybe they didn’t do it Dad’s way, but they did do it.


Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of SamaraCare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove, Illinois.

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Posted: September 29, 2019

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