Lose the Training Wheels

Ways to assist a young person who wants to learn to ride a bike: Project confidence. Enjoy your own bike rides. Install training wheels. Spend time watching other kids riding. Smile encouragingly. Talk about caution, responsibility, and freedom. Model caution, responsibility, and freedom. Practice patience. Take the training wheels off. Promise to keep your hand on the seat. Run alongside. Yell words of encouragement. Start on a straight road lined with soft grass. Apply bandaids and kisses as needed. Require the donning of long pants. Put the training wheels back on. Tell true-life stories about your own learning. Allow breaks. Test the brakes. Watch for signs of returning confidence. Take the training wheels off again, this time for good.

~ ~ ~

This afternoon a friend told me the story of her daughter, many years ago now, falling in love with a school for the performing arts in another state and ultimately moving away to attend there. She made arrangements to stay with the families of several other students in order to make it work. As a sixteen year-old. Trying to imagine making that decision, I said, “It must have been so hard to say yes to that.”

“I didn’t say yes,” my friend responded, “At least not at first. I tried everything I could to talk her out of it; I even dragged her back and re-enrolled her in the school in our town after I visited her at the school she wanted to attend. But two friends of mine sat me down and said, ‘You have to let her go,’ and they were right. So I did.”

~ ~ ~

I am so fortunate. My learning network is well-stocked with thoughtful, courageous people.

In the past few months I’ve read several blog posts that resonated with me. Each dealt with the idea of supporting children’s development as learners in a slightly different way.

In the first, Vicki Davis (aka coolcatteacher) tells the story of a white water rafting trip which she then relates to her goals for the students she works with:

We have got to come to grips with how to take children from walled gardens to a point where they can safely operate in public places before they graduate from high school.

In the second, author Maya Frost (The New Global Student), responds to articles on college search consultants by making an impassioned case for “breaking the cycle of learned helplessness”:

When we rely on expensive services to prep kids for top schools, we are telling them that they can’t possibly compete in the real world without our assistance — and our money. Parents who want their kids to be able to get great jobs they love after graduation (without their help) are better off teaching their kids how to flesh out an idea, research the heck out of it, and follow the thread that leads to the most thrilling and fulfilling opportunities.

Parents: If you are considering paying for college help, consider what you are saying to your son or daughter by hiring a consultant to do what most families handle without assistance. Think about how you might spend that money in a way that could give your student more opportunities to develop confidence, relevant skills, a clear sense of direction and flaming enthusiasm.

The biggest problem with learned helplessness is that it’s contagious and hereditary. Stop the cycle now, and your kids will have a much brighter future.

Finally, just last week I read a post on parenting by C.C. Chapman over at Digital Dads:

What I’m getting at is that you need to make sure that your kids realize that the only way to succeed in life is to always work hard, to be strong willed and be the best you can be at whatever it is that you are passionate about. Yes, there are going to be plenty of people standing in your way, telling you no and gates set up to block them. But, I hope and pray that everything I’m doing with my kids is raising them to be a gatejumper who chases their dreams with every ounce of their soul.

I am interested in how these ideas play out in the real world. Most parents I know would agree with the idea that parenting is all about supporting their children’s growth towards independence, but different parents are going to do very different things when confronted with the imagined reality of assuring some kind of “advantage” for their own son or daughter, or with the soul-gripping terror that can accompany the prospect of actually letting go.

Every choice we make is a reflection of the best information we have at the time, as seen through the values we hold. If I am reflective and transparent in my work with students and my work as a parent, will it help me “maintain course” as I move forward?

I want to be thinking, “Will this choice help move this child (student) towards a life oriented towards life-long learning, ethical and deliberate decision-making, and love?”

Or, more simply:

Will this choice move us all towards the day when the training wheels come off?

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Posted on August 16, 2009, in big picture. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. A wise friend (that would be you) once pointed out to me that the goal is for a child to be an independent and happy adult. As a parent and a teacher, when I'm struggling to find the right path,I always ask myself "is this going to aid in the final goal of independence?" and then I act on behalf of independence. The question and the thinking help me take stock…and that makes it easier to do the right thing.

  2. Like it. Enjoyed our conversations on the topic. Am sending this to that daughter of adventure of mine!

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