I was in the park with my family last weekend. In the middle of the park stands this beautiful, big tree. Its large, sturdy branches grow close to the ground and you usually see the tree full of climbing children, finding their way up and down the trunk, focused and fulfilled by the wonderful task of tree-climbing.
On the bottom branch of the tree that day, I noticed a group of three boys, that were about four years old, sitting together and posing for a photo. “Cheese!” one mom happily called out to them, “Smile for the camera! Woohoo!”
And they all smiled, except for one. This little boy was holding on to that tree branch with all his strength, his body tense and his expression scared.
He soon cried out to his mother, “I’m scared!”
His mom and the others standing by looked at him and started laughing.
“Oh, come on! Don’t be silly! Smile!”
“Aaah!” The boy cried louder, “I’m going to fall! Mama!”
He was pleading to his mother to take him down.
What the mothers saw was a silly boy that shouldn’t be scared. He was only few feet from the ground for heaven’s sake! Surely there was nothing to be scared of? His mother meant well when she told him “It’s alright! It’s not even high, bubba. Look at your friends, they’re not scared! Stop it!”
It was pretty symbolic for me to witness this encounter on that day. Why?
Well, because for a whole year, my 4.5 year old didn’t “dare” to go higher than the first branch of that tree. She was the child that either stood by and watched, or could hardly move around on the branches because she felt too afraid of falling.
If there is anything respectful parenting has taught me, it is to trust the process. Magda Gerber’s famous words “earlier is not better” and her teachings on allowing children to learn and develop in their own time; that “readiness is key”, are what guided me for that whole year when my daughter was timid of what seemed like a very innocent tree to me.
Instead of encouraging her to “just do it!”, showing her how, or teaching her, I waited. Instead of getting anxious and scared that she “was not doing it right”, that she “shouldn’t be scared”, projecting into the future that her timidness was a sign that something was wrong with her and that something needed to be fixed, I was able to relax and was able to stay neutral.
No judgement, just allowing space for whatever process she was going through, trusting that it was all just what she needed at that time.
A lot of the time, learning doesn’t look like what we envision. The hours my daughter spent quietly observing other children climbing was incredibly important learning for her. The times she tried climbing but decided not to were exactly as many times as she needed. No teaching from me would have served her better than what she was already doing on her own.
We live in a society where we are constantly being told that “early is INDEED better”. We are told that in order for our kids to learn something, they need to be taught how to do it. That if we let them off the hook they will fall behind, become weak or lacking in some way.
Well, let me just tell anyone who reads this and wants to listen – it’s not true.
That very day at the park, my daughter was ready. She conquered the tree she had been timid of for a whole year, and I witnessed yet again the incredible beauty and power that comes with readiness.
The most beautiful part of the whole experience was that she climbed that tree unexpectedly, with so much joy, ease and flow, confidence and competence. She was focused and determined at the same time. It was like she had done it a million times before.
And up, up, up she went, climbing higher than any other kid on that tree! The other children were pointing at her, the older boys seemed very impressed. She literally could not climb any higher.
And there she was, sitting in the highest part of the tree, on a wobbly branch that totally looked like it could break any minute, at least in her mother’s eyes! My husband and I stared up at our timid little girl that didn’t seem so timid anymore.
I wanted to whisper into the ear of the mother of that crying boy. That I knew how she felt, that it was the same with my girl, to show her what would happen if she let him off the hook and just waited. Show her the magic of readiness and the power of waiting. Of course, I didn’t.
We’re all on our own parenting journey and this mother was doing what felt right to her at that moment. That’s what we all try to do and it’s important to recognise that and respect that.
All I can do is keep doing what feels true and right for me on this incredible parenting journey, and that afternoon, I felt deeply thankful to have decided to take the route of trust. How thankful I am that I waited. That I wholeheartedly trusted the process, and therefore, my daughter.