Helping Children Cope with "Firsts"

Trial and error has always been a recipe for success.

The school year presents children and parents with many new “firsts”. Your children might be starting a new school or are taking the bus for the very first time. Perhaps they decided to try a different sport or experiment with a dance class. Possibly the teacher handed them instruments and now they must try to master the cello or violin. Our older SIBS kids do not escape new challenges, either. They are now thinking about what classes they should taking, or new extra-curricular activities they should be trying to help shape their college applications. More importantly, the teens are considering college choices, and many are preparing for their first physical separation from their families. As parents we too are faced with a very important challenge; how do we help them handle these firsts, without taking over for them?

At SIBS this question hit very close to home for two of our staff members this year. Suzanne observed her first born as he became a first time father to little Charli Jane. As she guided him and offered support she had to find the balance between helping out and also giving the new parents a chance to learn and grow into this new role. Joanna watched her twins head off on the bus to kindergarten and worried about this first separation from the home and from each other. When her children struggled with this new independence the challenge became: when do you intervene and when do allow them to experience the anxiety and master a sense of autonomy?

In the end both realized that part of helping a children build self- esteem is to allow them the opportunity to make their own decisions, celebrate their successes and learn from their mistakes. There are many outcomes that this learning brings. A child might feel embarrassed, frustrated and/or disappointed in his efforts. However, if a child knows that they are supported by a parent, no matter what, it allows him to make decisions and feel safe in sometimes being "imperfect"

It is not helpful to children to be made to feel judged or shamed when they make a mistake. It is, however, productive for them to be taught that they can learn from their failures by looking at the situation and creating a new plan that will, hopefully lead to success. Through this practice they will be helped to build self-confidence in their own ability to figure things out. Trial and error has always been a recipe for success. Perseverance is, indeed, an important lesson to master.

Both Suzanne and Joanna had to find a way to navigate through these firsts, as parents as well as professionals. Suzanne did not quit her job at SIBS to become her granddaughter’s full-time nanny, although there were days when this was very tempting. When the twins both cried as Joanna helped them on the bus, she fought back the urge to make a daily routine of taking them to school, although if truth be told, there were days she did follow the bus all the way there. As parents we never reach perfection although we might be on a life-long mission to master this skill. Hopefully by offering our children proper guidance and by keeping the lines of communication open we can successfully navigate these firsts together.

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