The Art of Letting Go, Part 1
Alan W. Carson
ACPI® Coach for Parents
While working as a middle school guidance counselor, a young 6th grade teacher called me from her classroom telephone and asked if we could talk about an e-mail she received from a parent. I said, “Of course,” and went up to her classroom during her planning period. The teacher had printed the e-mail and handed it to me. It read as follows:
Dear Mrs. Doe:
My daughter was very upset yesterday when she got home because of the grade she got on the test she took in your class. Amy put a lot of time into studying and strives for perfection in her school and co-curricular activities. She is a first chair violin player in the orchestra, she was chosen to ice-skate between periods at a professional hockey game and she sings with an elite children’s choir. She was thrilled to earn a 100% on her test, but to have that taken away from her because she forgot to put her name on the paper seems a little harsh.
She is not a repeat offender so why take a perfect grade away from a child because she didn’t write her name? It was an accident probably due to being apprehensive and surely something that could and would not happen again. Was it necessary to take a perfect grade away from a hard working child? Wouldn’t a simple reminder have been OK?
I don’t need to use this space to discuss my conversation with the teacher. But we do need to address the difficulty this parent was having with letting go. The teacher did not rip Amy’s test up and throw it away, she did not give Amy an “F,” she simply took two points away from this 6th grader’s test score. In my opinion, this teacher was trying to gently teach Amy an important lesson. Mom didn’t like seeing her daughter upset and took it upon herself to contact the teacher.
One of our essential roles with our kids is to gradually let go and permit them to accept more responsibility for their own lives. If we don’t let go, our kids will lack the internal strength and skills to function independently when they leave home for college or work. The goal is to let go gradually so that our children will either experience success or will succeed after learning from their mistakes.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume our child is entering middle school as a 6th grader. What skills, traits, and abilities to hope our child possesses? To name a few, he can:
– Complete homework independently
– Ask teachers for help when he is confused
– Gets himself ready for school on time
– Pack his own gym bag
– Resolve conflicts peacefully with others
– If necessary, wash and dry his clothes, and make a simple dinner
We cannot parent a twelve-year-old the way we parent a ten-year-old. We have to expect and demand steady growth. However, accepting this philosophy requires that we be comfortable with our kids making mistakes. Let me ask a question: would we rather our child make a mistake when he is young or make a mistake when he is in high school? This is a no-brainer. The mistakes high school kids make are far more serious: drinking alcohol, having sex, vandalism, skipping school, drag racing– you name it. What mistakes to 4th graders make? Forget to do their homework, go to school without their lunch, gossip about another kid, talk in class, stay up too late and get sick to their stomach from eating too much junk food.
Therefore, we want our kids to make mistakes when they are young and the consequences are normally short term. We want them to experience what it feels like to do stupid things so they learn that making poor decisions leads to things not turning out well for them. We hope that these experiences will leave a lasting impression and they will learn to consistently make good decisions.
Here is one simple example with my daughter. One of my duties was to take my daughter to dance class. In October, it might be fairly warm at 6:00 pm, and Sarah would not think she needed a coat. Well, by 8:30, it might be really cold and Sarah would be shivering in the car until the heat kicked in. I chose to let go of the coat issue and allowed her to make that decision. It didn’t take long before she started asking my opinion and following my recommendation.
If we want our children to develop a sense of responsibility, make good choices, become self-disciplined and listen to our point of view, we have to let go and allow our children to accept more ownership for their lives.
Here is part two, the art letting go when our tweens and teens want freedom.
Alan is an ACPI® Coach for Parents, and author of Before They Know It All: Talking to Tweens and Teens About Sexuality, which is available from his website as an e-book–