Parenting is a balancing act.
Sometimes finding balance comes easily, like on the lowest balance beam of the toddler gym class. We hit an obstacle but the answer seems to appear right before us, as if we knew it all along. We can solve almost any problem with that powerful combination of adrenaline and confidence pushing us along.
Other times, we get caught in the middle. We strive to teach and help our children, while offering them the gift of independence at the very same time. The balance takes a little more effort in these moments. We take each step carefully, weighing the options before we proceed.
And sometimes, we find ourselves hundreds of feet in the air, walking that dreaded tightrope, with nothing but a stick to hold our balance. Caution always leads the way in these moments. There is no room for error; the consequences are too great.
From the moment they begin to form words and sentences, we encourage our children to speak. We read to them, we talk to them, we respond to their babbles, and we listen to their stories.
We teach them that they have a voice. We encourage them to use it. We want them to feel confident, strong, and heard.
In leading them toward independence, we encourage assertiveness.
But sometimes our efforts fall short.
Some adults would prefer for children to listen without question. Some adults think that questions are a sign of disrespect. Some adults refuse to acknowledge that children have thoughts and ideas worth hearing.
I’ve heard it at the park. I’ve heard it on the soccer field. I’ve even heard it in classes.
There is a fine line between maintaining order in a large group of children and minimizing them. There comes a point where the reaction of an adult can make a child feel very, very small.
Some children speak freely and without worry. They don’t fear the reaction of the adult in the room. They have words to share and they are determined to share them.
Others work hard to find their voices. They choose their words carefully. They speak in a quiet tone. And they worry about how their words will be received.
These are the kids who need some assistance from time to time. They need backup. They need a parent in their corner, ready to pick up where they left off.
Assertiveness, for these kids, is a learning process. It’s a series of baby steps that requires support and encouragement along the way. When they find their voices, we need to cheer them on and jump in if their words are not well received. We need to show them that their effort was worth it.
We need to be their advocates.
Growing up is hard work. It’s fun and full of adventure and learning, but it isn’t always easy.
It’s not enough to simply tell them that they can do it. It’s not enough to hand them a script and send them out there on their own.
Adults are not always right. Teachers, coaches, other parents…they all have their moments. They don’t always make the right choices or use the best voice tone. Sometimes…they even run out of patience.
We need to advocate for our children. We need to have their backs and step in when life is difficult. We need to be their voices when their voices are quieted by others.
If we don’t, who will?