Independence is the main quality of a grown up person. What should parents know about their child’s development from a completely dependent infant into a fully responsible, independent adult? How and when do parents need to give up their supervision in order to let their child learn about freedom?
There are seven stages of this development, according to Parenting For Everyone by Simon Soloveychik (Book1 part1 Ch.11). He calls this process self-liberation. In each stage a child throws himself toward new opportunities, liberates himself from his ties with parents, learning about freedom, and about the responsibility related to it.
The first stage of self-liberation is birth. A child liberates himself from his mother’s womb, from darkness into light, into millions of new sensations, with a cry of pain, or is it happiness? He is free now! But no, it is not freedom yet. With birth a child loses the security of his mother’s body. He is very vulnerable. Even his own hands can startle him. It will take time before an infant learns about his little body and the environment around him, before he feels secure and is ready to expand his life opportunities.
The next stage is when a child starts walking. Our little toddler wants to be independent. He takes his first steps and, oh no, he falls. Again, freedom comes with pain. It hurts! However, desire to expand his living space is bigger than pain. He tries again, and again. And he learns walking. I can do it! Oh, joy of liberation! Now he himself can choose which direction to take: to the right to bump into his mom’s belly, or to the left to grab his dad’s leg, or to sit down and play with a toy. There is much more to do now, and mom is always near, offering full supervision. However, “the first footstep of a child is also the first no-no…,” Soloveychik says. This “no-no,” the way it is said, eventually may add to the child’s inner sense of security, or it may add to his insecurity. Parents, be aware! Somehow, with parental “no-no” or without, or even in spite of it, a child starts learning the difference between good opportunities and bad ones.
In the third stage of self-liberation a child is stepping out of the home into the yard. With this stage a period of half freedom and half supervision begins. More and more time of the day a preschooler is all by himself, how exciting! I am big already! There are lots of new things to play with, new fun to have. But there are also scary things, unknown, possibly dangerous things. Mother is a protector. In the beginning she is nearby. But she goes back into the house leaving him alone. A child explores the world himself, learning to deal with his new choices, new joys and fears. A desire to explore the new world is still there. However, the strength of this desire depends on a developed sense of security inside of him. The more a child feels safe the more he is willing to meet more of life.
The fourth stage. A child enters school. Now parenting supervision and protection is almost nil. New people: teachers, peers, and bullies… The more a child accumulated those inner ties with his mother, the more he feels ready for this new life. If, instead, he comes home and hears a severe “What did you do now?” or he meets an indifferent look, then his desire to develop weakens. This is the stage when a child learns whether the duty to study is associated with joy, or it becomes a burden. If studying new things brings a child joy, if he feels “I can do it!” the routine of taking responsibility for hard work of study is not scaring him. In fact, taking new responsibilities brings joy because they challenge child’s potential. If, instead, school life makes a child feel exhausted and empty, and in addition, at home he doesn’t get support, poor child! The new responsibilities of his future life will become unbearable for him.
The next stage is the exit from childhood. Adolescence. “Strength of character, formerly asleep, is released with new unclear tormenting desires.” Girls, boys, parties, dating, kisses, and sex… There is almost no external parental supervision. New freedoms come with new responsibilities, with their severe punishment for wrong choices. If heartfelt ties with parents have been luckily formed inside of a child, there is hope, that together with the teenager parents will survive a difficult time. Otherwise, they will suffer.
In the sixth stage children graduate from school and go into the world. New friends, a job, coworkers, bosses, marriage, kids, house, pets, and a yard… It’s full freedom, and no parental supervision, for most people. And it is a full responsibility, responsibility to make one’s own choices, good or bad, and live one’s own life. If by this time there is a sense of inner security in a man, then he continues to develop to his fullest potential. The desire to take on more difficult challenges drives him to assume bigger responsibilities, fulfillment of which brings him a sense of great happiness. If, instead, the sense of security is weak, a person will have to postpone his need to develop and will work on making sure he is secure first. Sometimes this process takes a life time.
And finally, the last stage, freedom from all responsibility – death. The human life cycle ends. It is a cycle from no freedom to full freedom, from no responsibility to full responsibility, until death. How should parents teach children about responsibility? Not by talking about it, not by scolding, but by allowing them to self-liberate for life and new responsibilities.
What stage of self-liberation is your child at now? How do you teach your child about responsibilities? How and when do you give up your parental supervision to let your child learn about freedom?