I observed them from a distance. Holding hands with her parents, a delightful girl, about nine years old, approached the rope obstacle course with excitement. The attendant instructed her about the course, helped her put on the harness and secured it to the safety line from the first podium. Her parents gave her a squeeze and together gestured with encouragement toward the second podium. She looked at the thin board upon which to tandem walk as she gripped the loose side ropes to steady her gate. Then it happened. Paralyzed with fear she turned back, pleading to get off the course.
I’ve observed similar emotions in my children and others’ children as they face new life challenges. I’m always intrigued by the complexity of this relationship dynamic and interested in the results. While slowing my own progress along the course I observed to see how these parents would respond and was quite impressed.
Her parents just stood there. Together united, unwavering, with an expression of loving support but not saying a word and not reaching to rescue her or provide escape from the challenge at hand. The girl cried, pleaded for escape, and insisted on rescue. When her parents didn’t yield she looked at the narrow board leading to the rest of the course, then back toward her parents with intensified sobs of distress. She drew the attention of the rest of the patrons and the line behind her began to fill.
I knew her parents must have sensed increased pressure as their daughter begged and the crowd looked on. The attendant reassured her of the safety features. People in line assured her success was possible. Her parents waited in noble silence, with resolved and confident expressions of reassurance.
I was sure one of her parents would cave and guide her back off the podium. The pressure mounted as her distress intensified and the line grew longer. Finally she took one step, looked back to see the same supportive presence, then looked forward and cautiously proceeded with increasing speed to the next podium. Her parents followed once she arrived and met her beaming pride with hugs of praise.
She looked at the next challenge and after only a brief glance toward her parents, proceeded to her next conquest. I was thrilled for this child as she enjoyed the rest of the course and for her parents who had succeeded in assisting their daughter toward a major accomplishment in resilience.
Why is this example so important? For me, it typifies the relational balance each of us frequently faces with our children as they mature. Understanding this interaction is crucial to a healthy, loving, and supportive relationship with your child. I’ll explain more in the next four blogs. These articles do need to be read as a unit to fully understand the content.
John Bennett M.D. FAAP