Cadence and I have started attending a new play group for parents and toddlers at our local Steiner School. We have only been going for a few weeks but it has already become something that we both eagerly look forward to.
Last week our delightful group facilitator Oona brought out a small wooden climbing frame for the little ones to explore. Cadence took to it with great enthusiasm. As she was making her way up I was caught up by her glee and couldn’t help myself…”Wow..are you going to climb over the top, CJ?” I exclaimed, or words to that effect, you know, the typical kind of ‘encouragement’ you might hear in any playground.
Oona very gently and kindly reminded me that CJ may have her own agenda that might be quite different from mine.
What a gift this message was, and it has prompted a continual enquiry over the past week that has led to some subtle yet profound changes in the way we now approach things with CJ.
Rather than encourage each child, try to help them or even praise them for their efforts, Oona would simply let them explore. Being there as an observer, giving them gentle energy and attention but nothing more. Nothing else was needed. Each child was free to approach the frame in their own way, at their own pace and with their own goal in mind, or not, for who really knows what goes on within these little souls as they find their way in the world?
Oona’s example of simply observing and holding space for each child to explore at their own pace and in their own way was transformative.
It brought back to me all the principles that were the foundations for my work with young people when I first left the corporate world over 10 years ago. The approaches that are so fundamental to good facilitation and coaching. A way of being that lay at the very heart of my work with Amovita. Things that I thought were so instilled in me as to be second nature with my clients and yet, I now realise, have been missing from much of my work as a mother.
The act of fully accepting a person as they are, not wanting to change them, not wanting to impose our own agenda, however subtle, well-meaning or heartfelt. To allow the individual to lead, to chose their own challenges and goals. To truly believe that they have all the resources they need within them. To simply be a match to their flame if required, that is the work of a coach, of a facilitator who has the highest good of the individual at the heart of their work and surely, therefore, the work of a parent too.
It occurs to me that, even with the best intentions, it may not always be in our children’s best interests to ‘help them’. Particularly when it comes to physical pursuits when it is so vital that they learn to trust their bodies and understand cause and effect as it is for them in their world. Oona mentioned that, in her experience, if a child is allowed to find its own way from very young, he gets to know his body, how it feels on the ground, in the space and will very rarely fall or get into difficulty, but rather build confidence.
I have seen the evidence of this with CJ too. I notice that when she is climbing something in the playground and I ‘help’ she abdicates responsibility, loses her centre of gravity, and will more often than not either fall off or have to be physically carried to her end point. The whole venture is rarely a successful learning opportunity, or much fun for either of us.
When I leave her to do it for herself, the learning is visible, and incredibly fast. She tries approaches to find what works for her within the boundaries of her own abilities, finds her limits, tests them, pushes them. Her sense of esteem on ‘success’ or achievement is palpable. She has done it herself. She trusts her own body, she takes one more step towards independence, builds resilience. Self reliance. It moves me to tears how much more is possible for her when I step back where I belong and simply hold space.
It occurs to me that the likelihood of negative impact on self esteem is lessened with this approach of simple observation. Not just because of the rewards from ‘achieving’ on their own terms but also from being less likely to experience unnecessary pressure from external expectations that may be unrealistic or pull them from their natural path.
This approach should not be reserved for just our toddlers either. There is application with all our young people. Our teenagers may have mastered climbing frames but there will be countless challenges they face where we may all too readily jump in to try and fix it for them.
In coaching I have learnt that what we perceive on behalf of our client (even with the best intentions) as the solution to their difficulty, is rarely the best thing for them. Rather, if done effectively, the client is invited to present their own solutions. What the client comes up with is often a far more creative answer to the problem and is always more ecologically sound as it will be true to their own resources, core beliefs and values.
Whilst we may consider it helpful to make suggestions or give ideas, ultimately it can be hugely disempowering. Our job with all our children is to hold fast to our faith in their ability, trust them and rein in our ego. We may have life experience on our side but, if we are doing it right, our children aren’t the only ones learning from the relationship.
To be reminded in such a graceful and gentle way of this profound teaching is such a blessing for me. Whilst I’m sure there will be plenty of times when my enthusiasm will get the better of me, hopefully Cadence will get the balance and reassurance that comes from knowing that, for the most part, her parents trust her choices and believe in her abilities.