Here’s why it’s okay to quit (used to also include stop, change directions, reconsider etc.) in this house.
Recently our family headed out for our first kayaking experience. Everyone was on board and excited enough to agree to be roused from their beds earlier then their bodies would choose. The car was full of excited chatter and the singing of favorite tunes as we battled through unexpected traffic (that could be the theme of our life here in California).
We got to the dock a little late which didn’t seem to phase anyone, not even the folks holding the kayaks for us. We were gathering our gear when the kind fellow used words like “get wet and flip kayak”. I now had a terrified six year old buried in my lap. He was really not up for this sort of thing.
I am guessing that no where in his mind along the preparation for this journey had he ever considered such things as the kayak tipping or some of the ocean water being in the kayak with him. And these big ideas were just too much. He looked at me with frightened eyes and said “mom I really don’t wanna do this.”
Now I know there are several responses that could have been inserted here based on a wide range of parenting philosophies and ideals. Thankfully for me in that moment the only consideration was my child and his sense of safety. When we as humans are trying to meet our need for safety every thing else melts into the background. The primal kicks in and the need for safety takes priority over reason, logic and any other strategy I might have employed. So, he and I did not go kayaking.
We watched, we listened and we questioned. But we did not step foot in a kayak. His brother and dad cautiously headed out and returned 40 minutes in to their 4 hour rental. That was enough for a first timer. And when they returned they had stories of dolphins, pelicans and sea lions. The telling of tales over lunch left my six year old announcing “I totally want to do that next time.”
And that is why quitting is okay in this house. I could have forced the issue and potentially left my child hating kayaking or fearing kayaking for a long time, potentially the entirety of his life. Instead he was inspired by people he trusted who showed him this was a safe and super cool experience. Now he is motivated to give it another shot (and in case you are wondering if at the last minute he changes his mind again he will be supported just as he was here).
When we create space for our children to quit, stop, change directions or reconsider a sport, activity, choice the underlying message we send to them is that that they are in control. I mean that they are in control of their own boundaries. They are able and capable of pushing and stretching them when the moment is right. This in my humble opinion ups the chances that they will want to repeat this sort of behavior because it feels good. When the control lies outside of us and in the hands of someone else it can be terrifying, out of control and down right unpleasant. When the control comes from with in it feels right, connected and perhaps just as scary but in a whole different I really want to do this kind of way.
Having the freedom to walk away from an activity can also create the breathing room necessary to re-enter or see things from a slightly different angle. Sometimes that moment of pause where you know you have the freedom to just quit is the space where a whole new level of courage is able to bubble up. In the moment where you are walking away you might just feel that feeling of “wait I really want to do this” and that extra surge of certainty can be just what my child needs to meet their goal or intention. This is why this option is always available in our house.
Ultimately for me it comes down to this, I want my children to know the edges of their comfort zones and boundaries. I want them to know them so they can push them. I want them to know how they feel when they are standing at the edge ready to push and deciding if the time is right. I want them to know what it feels like to break through that edge, of their own choosing, and delight in the new space. I want them to feel confident in their own ability to manage the sorts of big feelings that come from being alive in the world. And this can’t happen if I am in charge of the what and the when of their risk taking. I can provide a host of opportunities for the boys and stand by with the kind of open arms that receive them whatever they choose to do.
I wish you lived in Vancouver because I would TOTALLY have you come and speak to my guiding and caring class full of Early Childhood Educators! I love your thoughtfulness and care when it comes to empowering your children Shan.
Thanks Kar! I appreciate knowing this.
My 9yo son got to the top of the stairs on the waterslides at the wave pool on his own…he was too frightened to slide down on his own. He came down crying, thinking he was a coward. So I went up with him to discuss the science and logistics of the slides. He chose one, I went down first to show him (we weren’t allowed to go together due to safety issues). He stood and tried….but stepped back. I met him halfway down the stairs. I told him that he was brave to try it again…most people won’t. I didn’t try ice skating until recently after I fell hard at 5yo. I told him that when he was ready, he *will* go down and he *will* have fun. I told him our fear feelings are there to protect us from stupidity. There’s nothing wrong with that feeling. It’s about accepting that we aren’t prepared to face that fear quite yet, that’s not being a coward. We will be ready some other time. He certainly didn’t have any issues with the tubing on the mountain slopes!! So, he will get over it one day just fine….when he’s ready. He’ll just keep trying until he’s ready.
In similar situations I support both my boys choices to follow what feels comfortable for them. I too have found myself taking the option to sit it out with either Coop or Brody. Those times have been some of my fondest memories of good conversations shared one on one. Many times I have met criticism when I choose not to force my kids to stay in situations where they are not comfortable for the sake of a much needed break on my part. Early on Cooper would not leave my side or stay without me on many different occasions and he has grown into a self assured, confident boy. And I see Brody growing a little closer every day to a place where he is starting to feel safe without Rob or I. It feels good to know that I had the good fortune to allow that process to unfold naturally. I always tell the boys that they will eventually meet all challenges with success, when they are ready to. Thanks for sharing Shannon. Life can be so full of missed opportunities if we spend our time worrying about what didn`t happen instead of living in the moment and focusing on what is happening. Love you and miss you all :0)
You hit the nail on the head when you said that you’re preparing them to know their own boundaries for when you’re NOT around. If the most pertinent authority figure in their life is forcing them into doing something they don’t want to do (that’s really just an optional activity), it sends a message that they should just step in line for everything. I think you’re right that we need to empower our kids to know their own limits and feel confident in listening to those instincts. It will serve them well in future situations.
I loved this post. We went through a situation a couple of weeks ago where my in-laws were worried about my son being “skittish” because he doesn’t like roller coasters (even though my brother in law didn’t like them either as a kid.) I don’t make my kids do anything they’re not comfortable with.