Raising children is full of ups and downs. We go from thinking we’re doing a good job to feeling confused and panicked, wondering, “How did we ever get to this place?”
We drive our children through life pointing out the beauty of pastoral scenes, stopping to lecture at important historical markers and geographic wonders and telling them how wonderful and competent they are. We focus on the bucolic vistas that catch our own eyes, lecture about the battles we’ve fought and emphasize the competencies they have in areas that are familiar to us or that we value.
But sometimes, we’re blindsided by a detour. All of a sudden, the child who was sitting next to us in the car has taken us down a side road that we didn’t even know existed.
Parents of preschoolers often run into those unanticipated detour signs. The chatty 2-year-old, whose adorable fast-paced chatter makes him the center of every family gathering, suddenly buries his head in his mother’s leg and stops talking when it’s time to enter the classroom.
The cautious 4-year-old, who won’t walk across the backyard balance beam without a hand, shows a new rough-and-tumble side on the playground, leading others in a wild run to the other end of the yard. Parents who anticipate hearing that their child is the classroom social butterfly find that an environment with that much stimulation leads that same child to choose a small group at the table, with a teacher close by to keep things calm.
The years from 2 to 5 are full of new environments, emerging skills and novel challenges. When those things converge, old accomplishments can seem insurmountable, and yet, new challenges can feel manageable.
This is all normal.
As parents, we have to decide what is truly important to us when we are confronted by these unexpected byways. We have to distinguish what we want from what is truly necessary. We want our children to have good table manners, but that pales in comparison to basic honesty.
Just as we respected our child’s timetable when she learned to walk, we have to respect her individual pace with later challenges and situations, which takes an extra resolve. Sit back, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you knew there would be boulders around each turn. Particularly when a new environment, change in routine or developmental leap is contributing to your trepidation, it’s important to bolster yourself with trust in the inevitability, or sometimes the necessity, for that change or leap.
A child can be thrown by things you thought would be easy for him. If he is drawing strength from your leg before he ventures into the classroom, work with the teacher to find the balance between exuding confidence in the school and being understanding of your child’s apprehensions.
Establish and maintain routines around difficult situations, while you subtly sneak in extra unrelated attention at home. He may still need the window shut while you’re enjoying the breeze. But he may be willing to let you crack it open a little more each day if he sees how much you love how it feels.
With children there are always bumps in the road and we are forced to veer off our intended routes more than a few times. With the strengths, temperaments and personalities that are uniquely theirs, our goal is still to prepare our children to take over the driving.