Last week Sophia accomplished an amazing feat, one I didn’t entirely believe her capable of. Sophia (4 1/2 years old) hiked five out of the six hours it took us to get up Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, climbing over 3000ft in elevation ON HER OWN TWO FEET.
Honestly, I didn’t think she would make it over an hour or two on her own. That was the furthest we had hiked this summer–and some of those hikes were a struggle. Why would she be capable of more than that?
Often times our perception of what kids are or are not capable of unintentionally limits our own children. A four year old can’t climb Mt. Washington on her own, it’s just too much. It’s just too dangerous. Sometimes our own fear can get in the way. Or our desire to have things “just so.” I know that both of those are true of me, sometimes. I worry and I like things just so. And on occasion that limits what I let my kids do: No you can’t walk up there, you might fall. Let me stir the cookies first, I don’t want flour going everywhere. I picture a disastrous outcome: scraped up limbs or a mess in the kitchen. More often than not I’m picturing the way it will affect me: We will have to interrupt our day to drive to the ER or God-forbid spend an extra moment cleaning up the flour.
And other times we intervene too soon. We see our kids struggle on the monkey bars, wondering where to put their foot next, wondering how to get down. We walk over and we help them. Our intentions are good: we want to help, we want them to feel like we are there for them, we want them to feel secure…or maybe we don’t want the other parents on the playground to think we are neglectful. Sometimes it can be hard to let your children struggle. But struggle is what builds strength. Struggle is what builds confidence. Struggle is necessary. Now, on the playground I hold back (I hold back to the point where other parents sometimes step in and help my kids). I’m not absent. And I won’t hold back if they truly are in danger. But I want them to struggle…well maybe I don’t want them to struggle, but I know the struggle will produce something in them that I can never reproduce by helping them. So I stand by. I reassure them with a gentle voice: “You can do it! Go ahead figure it out. You got this!” And in the end they always figure it out and once they figure it out-on their own, they are back at it time after time after time until we have to leave.
The kind of confidence that is produced by overcoming struggle is real and rugged. It’s that confidence that got Sophia up the highest mountain in the Northeast. When I asked her her favorite part of the hike, her response surprised me: “The scrambling bits,” she said. The tough technical terrain that required her to get on her hands and knees, the terrain that had her fighting for her balance, often times reaching for Mark’s hand while I supported her bum from below. She loved the tough parts. She loved them because when she conquered them, her confidence grew. She doesn’t know that. She just knows she feels STRONG and BIG and CAPABLE because she did something HARD.
Our hike wasn’t without struggle. There were times when she was tired, so we rested. There were times when she was frustrated, so we worked through it. There were times when she walked p-a-i-n-f-u-l-y slow, so we played games to pick up the pace. And there were times when Mark carried her. And in the end it all boiled down to one foot in front of the other, and she did it…for five hours. And the confidence she gained from the physical feat of hiking Mt. Washington, will translate into other non-physical feats. It will hopefully give her the confidence to stand up for what is right, to love the unlovable, to believe in the face of doubt.
Believing BIG things for your kids isn’t about a future picture of them as capable and confident. It’s right now. It’s getting yourself and your preconceived ideas out of the picture. Setting aside your fears and your preferences. It’s thinking about the natural consequences of slip ups and mistakes and allowing your child to go through them. It is standing back. Holding back. When we do that. Oh, when we do that! They will SHINE!
Do you think you unintentionally limit your kids? How can you believe BIG for your kids?
Mt. Washington is a difficult and potentially dangerous hike. Mark and I have hiked this trail every year for 14 years and we know it well (Mark has hiked it many more). We pick the day we hike based on the best and safest weather conditions. We carefully prepare for all weather conditions and take the safety of our children very seriously. If they were ever on danger we would never hesitate to call off the hike or turn back before reaching the summit. Our goal is to create a safe environment in which our kids can take big risks and do big things. That takes forethought and preparation. We spent the summer hiking smaller mountains to prepare both mentally and physically. Please don’t attempt a hike like this without preparing yourself or your kids. I should also add that instead of hiking down we rode the Cog Railway to the bottom. This not only saves Mark and my knees, but allows us to do the hike in a day.
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