Parenting Then & Now
Parenting Strategies – June 2012
Copyright © 2012 by Kay Kimball Gruder, SuccessfulCollegeParenting.com
Expectations that one might not be used to, challenges of living with roommates, greater autonomy to make good and poor decisions, unfamiliar authority figures, challenges navigating different environments, and having more freedom than ever before, these are only some of the myriad of new experiences encountered when a young adult attends college. With so much being new and unfamiliar, students benefit when parents can effectively anticipate the challenges that they will experience – just like when we anticipated the falls and scrapes that accompanied learning to ride a bike. The college student also benefits when we can exhibit patience when he or she is struggling. It is at these times that they seek for us to demonstrate a steady nature in the thick of the mistakes and poor decisions that they make as part of their developmental journey during college.
Can our recollection of our early parenting guide us as our student goes through college?
Think about when a child approaches the new experience of learning to ride a 2-wheeled bike. Most parents exhibit an endless amount of patience. Parents teaching a child to ride a bike also provide ongoing support and encouragement as their son or daughter tries again and again until he or she is successful. Bikes hit trees, children land in bushes, gravel gets ground into knees, handlebars get over-steered, bikes get thrown down, and children get frustrated.
And what do we do?
§ we anticipate they will likely fall and struggle – and let them know this is part of the learning process;
§ we cheer them on;
§ we let them know, “You can do it!”
§ we say, “It’s okay – you can try again tomorrow”;
§ we might ask, “What do you think is causing that to happen?”
§ we offer a hand as they pick up the bike and we talk with them to help them get settled emotionally for another try;
§ we give them examples of success and sometimes share stories about others who have had similar experiences;
§ we cheer them on some more;
§ we tap into a deep pool of patience;
§ we alert them to potential obstacles;
§ we let them know how proud we are with even their smallest steps toward accomplishment;
§ we bandage cuts and scrapes;
§ we celebrate their success.
By the time students get to college it can actually be more difficult to let them struggle, to fail, and to pick themselves up than during those early years of learning to ride bikes. With the high cost of college, most families cannot afford the financial loss of having their student fail, struggle, take extra time, etc. This reality can impact how we parent by increasing:
our negative reactions;
our lack of patience when our student struggles and makes mistakes.
Now let’s return to the image of a child learning to ride a bike and see what might inform our parenting now.
· Children learning to ride bikes need to struggle to figure out how it all fits together and to determine what they need to do to create stability and to experience success.
Recognize that attending college places your student in new situations from the earliest days of the first year through the final days of senior week and that when they are challenged or struggle they are one step closer to figuring things out.
· We fully anticipate the range of challenges that children face as part of the process of learning to ride a bike – and through experiencing those challenges they grow to understand cause and effect.
Anticipate some of the challenges that will occur and consider, in advance, how you can best support and guide your student
during the developmental opportunities that naturally arise by virtue of attending college (difficulties with roommates, failing a class, homesickness, poor time management, etc.).
· We recognize that experiencing what doesn’t work, when learning to ride a bike, is sometimes as important as learning what does work.
Let your student know that it is okay to make mistakes and the expectation is they then learn from those mistakes.
· We help our child to think about what they are doing and we refrain from judgment as they embark on the new experience of riding a bike.
Partner with your student as he or she thinks through options, solutions or next steps and don’t underestimate all that he or she is navigating that is unique and challenging.
Consider that many of the experiences that your son or daughter encounters during college are as new and daunting as learning to ride a bike. Use this insight to provide the steadying support and understanding that your student needs as they attain new skills and abilities.
“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” ~Pablo Picasso