The Importance of Letting Go
“Good parents give their children Roots and Wings. Roots to know where home is, Wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them.” – Dr. Jonas Salk
It may be understandably hard for parents to let go of their children, especially having been there with them every step of the way, holding their hands as they grew up (Krisbergh, 2018). However, it is precisely because your child is growing up, being able to make their own decisions and going through different developmental milestones, that parents need to learn how to balance between letting go and holding on. Give children strong roots by letting them learn from mistakes and practice independence, and they can have broad wings to soar towards success in the future.
For you and your child, the ultimate goal is for your child’s independence (Knittel, 2018). Overprotective parents are actually more likely to create weaker children because they do not have a strong enough foundation to stand on their own two feet (Bain, 2016). They need to be able to think for themselves and make hard decisions in times of need and when you are not around to help them (Gauld, 2016). And as for you, parents, being able to let go means that you do not excessively worry about your child. Overparenting may often lead to undue stress felt by you and your child, and your child may even feel suffocated (Perry, 2018) – this shows signs of budding toxicity in your parent-child relationship (read more about toxic families here: https://www.inpsychful.sg/toxic-family/).
Are You an Overprotective Parent?
Every parent wants to protect their child, but overprotective parenting can hinder your child’s development in the long run. Here are some tell-tale signs of overprotectiveness that can help you to determine if you are an overprotective parent:
- Micromanaging your child’s life
Do you manage which friends your child interacts with (Nair, 2018)? Do you restrict which activities he/she engages in (Morin, 2020)? If your answer is ‘yes’, chances are, you are engaging in overparenting!
- Keeping your child from failing
Overprotective parents are often quick to shield children from negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and disappointment. They often protect children from failure by doing their homework for them or resolving friendship problems for them (Tartakovsky, 2018).
- Over-consoling your child
When children get upset, they may cry and make a fuss. Parents should be there to soothe them by providing comforting words and perhaps a hug. However, overprotective parents are quick to console children in ways that are excessive, such as buying the child an ice cream or new toy every single time he/she cries (Morin, 2020).
- Constantly reminding your child about danger
Are you constantly on the lookout for potentially dangerous places, objects, and people around your child, even when they are engaging in normal day-to-day activities? Or do you find yourself shouting ‘stop!’ and ‘don’t do that!’ to your child? These are signs that you may be restricting your child and interfering in his/her daily living (Morin, 2020).
- Doing everything for your child
Even when children are old enough to handle objects on their own and groom themselves, many overprotective parents may still step in to do things that children can actually do for themselves. These parents may tie children’s shoelaces, dress them, or even feed them during meal times (Tartakovsky, 2018).
When is The Right Time?
Letting go is a gradual process and should correspond with each stage of your child’s development (Krisbergh, 2018). Some children may have to grow up faster than others, but they should generally not stray too far away from their peers.
An easy overview would be to consider your child’s age (Knittel, 2018), and what kind of skills he/she should possess during that age range (Krisbergh, 2018). For example, when your children are in preschool, you would have to pick them up from school because they are still too young to navigate home on their own; they may not even know your home address. However, when your child reaches secondary school, it would be useful for him/her to learn how to take public transport. This is where you step in to show your child how to do that so that they can travel home on their own.
Parents should gradually shift their role from providing the child with security and protection to someone who provides empathetic support (Finn, 2020). At the end of the day, it is important for you to grow up with your child and not on behalf of your child.
How To Let Go
Parents may then feel lost and unsure of whether they should and could let go of their children. You may ask: “what is the right approach?” “is it working?”; parenting has to be accepted as a practice of trial and error. Mistakes are common! The important aspect of it all is that parents must learn how to build on their methods to see what actually works for their children. Hence, while these tips can provide you with a starting point, take the time to observe what works for you and your child at their development.
Getting Rid of The ‘Perfect Child’ Expectation
Oftentimes, parents are quick to swoop in and take over the tasks of their children whenever they see their child on the path to making a mistake, and rectify the situation before they are about to fail, because they want their child to grow up being successful and happy (Moses et al., 2018). Parents may very easily interfere by telling children what toy to play with, clean up after them, and sometimes even dictating what they should do in a demanding manner (Perry, 2018). This kind of behaviour is a display of helicopter parenting, where parents hover over children’s actions. While this kind of helicopter parenting may have positive short-term effects by shielding children from impending failure and unhappiness (Tan, 2020), your good intentions can easily backfire (Gauld, 2016) in the long run.
Children who are subjected to helicopter parenting are likely to grow up having poorer self-esteem than their peers, possess more self-doubt, and be more susceptible to stress in the future. They may also display signs of poor emotional regulation at an early age and have behavioural difficulties (Perry, 2018). These are also predictive factors of mental health issues such as anxiety (Tan, 2020).
Encouraging Trial and Error
Trial and error is the natural process of learning (Finn, 2020). We learn to ride a bike by first learning how to be okay with falling; we learn to cook properly by remembering to add more salt the next time on. As such, we have to let our children get comfortable with trying – even if it means that they fail sometimes. Let children have the freedom to make friends, explore foreign environments, fall down a little, or even make mistakes (Finn, 2020). What is important is that parents let them experience these challenges and thereafter, be there to guide them back onto the right path.
By doing so, children are more able to learn to acknowledge and accept their own feelings, build self-reliance, engage in independent problem solving, and deal with frustrations and stress (Gauld, 2016). This can prepare them to engage with more complex problems in school, in their social circle, and at home as they grow up (Perry, 2018). Through a variety of experiences, children are also exposed to a whole range of emotions and learn how to cope with these feelings. The success will be sweeter and more likely to stick with them for life if they were to overcome obstacles on their own!
Promoting Responsibility at Home
Home is often a safe space for children. Parents can use the familiar environment of the home for children to make mistakes and build a strong foundation in dealing with the expectations of the outside world (Bright Side, 2019). For example, parents can start to give children home-based responsibilities such as helping out with a household chore. What you could do would be to demonstrate how to do the chore, before letting them try it out with you. Over time, as children become familiar with the procedure, you can let them do it on their own! Alternatively, you could encourage them to take responsibility for their own workload. For example, when doing homework, encourage them to attempt the questions on their own for at least an hour (at maximum effort!), before they ask you for help. If they still cannot complete it, try to guide them but do not take over and spoon feed them the answers.
By doing so, children will learn resilience and adopt good habits in their everyday life (Bright Side, 2019). Furthermore, by making your home the starting point, you can still be the one to guide your child and observe their behaviour. Both parent and child can benefit from establishing trust with each other: children will feel that parents give them the autonomy and freedom to achieve personal success, and parents will have a peace of mind letting children be independent (Finn, 2020).
Reflecting On Your Own Emotions
Lastly, it is also important for you to be in touch with your own thoughts and feelings as you go through difficult areas in parenting . Many parents go through a sense of loss when they have to let go of their children, and it is a feeling that is extremely common (Evans, 2020). By reflecting, you can become more rational and consistent in your parenting when you learn how to identify and control your emotions (Krisbergh, 2018).
Perhaps you could consider:
- What kind of skills would I like my child to grow up with?
- How can I promote the development of these skills in my child through independent learning?
- What are some of the positive and negative feelings that I feel when I see my child growing up and becoming more independent? When do I feel these emotions most strongly?
- How can I manage negative feelings associated with seeing my child grow up? What are some activities that I can do?
Through the act of reflection, you can think about situations rationally and be conscious about adopting wise-minded parenting (approaching challenging situations in a thoughtful and intentional manner) and avoiding emotional parenting (Moses et al., 2018). This way, you can remind yourself about the benefits of letting go of your child gradually.
As parents, it is always hard to let go, no matter how easy it may seem in theory. However, we must remember that we are here to nurture children so that they are prepared to live on their own in the future, no matter how far this future may seem! Embrace these changes as they come and as your child grows up, so that you can grow with your child.
Camellia Wong (MA), Kam Wing Shan
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Bright Side. (2019, October 26). 10 Things Parents Should Let Go of in Order to Raise a Mature Child. https://brightside.me/inspiration-family-and-kids/10-things-parents-should-let-go-of-in-order-to-raise-a-mature-child-794585/
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Finn, J. F. (2020, June 10). How to let go: Here’s what to know. TODAY.Com. https://www.today.com/parenting-guides/how-let-go-t179163
Gauld, J. W. (2016, September 25). A Dynamic Way to “Let Go” of Adult Children. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-dynamic-way-to-let-go-o_b_8038852
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Krisbergh, A. (2018, October 23). Letting Go/Holding On: A Delicate Balance. The Center for Parenting Education. https://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/focus-parents/letting-goholding-delicate-balance/
Morin, A. (2020, April 30). 9 Signs of Overprotective Parents. Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/avoid-being-an-overprotective-parent-4083853
Moses, H., Murphy, J., & Sheridan, J. R. (2018, October 10). It’s Simple, but not Easy: 5 Ways to “Let Go” as a Parent. Solutions Parenting Support. https://solutionsparentingsupport.com/its-simple-but-not-easy-5-ways-to-let-go-as-a-parent/
Nair, A. (2018, November 3). 10 Signs You Are an Overprotective Parent. FirstCry Parenting. https://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/10-signs-you-are-an-overprotective-parent/
Perry, N. (2018, June 18). Helicopter Parenting May Negatively Affect Children’s Emotional Well-Being, Behavior. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/06/helicopter-parenting
Tan, A. (2020, May 30). Why it’s important for parents to “let go” of their kids. Smart Parents. https://www.smartparents.sg/child/social-life-skills/why-its-important-parents-let-go-their-kids
Tartakovsky, M. (2018, July 8). Are You an Overprotective Parent? PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/blog/are-you-an-overprotective-parent/