Time to help your children spread their wings...
By Rebecca Weber
In early childhood, infants and toddlers practice being different from their parents.
When we first think of children flying the nest for the first time we might imagine older teens getting ready to leave home. Will their wings be strong enough to fly without their parents? And are those parents ready to see their children fly? In psychology – the science that seeks to understand the way we think, feel and behave – we understand letting go as part of the process of individuation, or becoming one’s own self. This fundamental pillar of psychology is a process that coincides with a child’s physical development but during adolescence and again in adulthood can resurface as we negotiate new relationships.
In early childhood, infants and toddlers practice being different from their parents. They use their motor and cognitive skills to explore the world around them through all of their senses. During this first phase of individuation, young children are often excited at their new strength and capacity to discover and do activities. Look mommy! I can chew my own food! Becoming at ease in the absence of their parents might be satisfying and exciting but the inherent challenges and frustrations will make them invariably cry for reassurance and encouragement. Will mommy and daddy be there in the morning when I wake up? Or when the school day ends? Or when a new baby arrives?
Young children are dependent on their immediate caregivers to provide a sense of self and encouragement. Yes, you are good enough just the way you are, yes you are doing things the right way. However, as children approach adolescence, their main job is to takeover this role, providing their own sense of self-esteem and satisfaction. While they experiment trying on different kinds of identities, they look to their social worlds outside the family to let them know if they’re going about it the right way. If I am different from my friends, will I still belong to the group? Will I always belong to this group? When I’m not around, do my friends still care about me?
While teens experiment and develop a new sense of self, they might seem like they have hopped on board the toddler emotional roller coaster. As they seek out reassurance and belonging outside of their families, they revisit some of the ways that as a small child they learned to experience their own self in relationships.
Just like a toddler who is scared to go to sleep by themselves, a teenager might be quivering at their new independence – despite claiming to know everything!
Here in Geneva, families from around the world have different norms and expectations for what it means to belong to a family and to connect with people outside that family. So there is not one right time that parents should let their children fly with their own wings. In general, we’re looking to support children to experience a sense of ease of connection to other people, both within and outside the family, whilst maintaining one’s own sense of self. And this kind of letting go can happen throughout all the stages of child and adolescent development in as many different ways as there are families.
- Please note: any psychological advice or information provided in the Kids in Mind column in Voice Magazine is general information and should not be used to evaluate, diagnose or treat any specific concerns. Always check with your medical-care provider if you have questions about your own children. Neither Voice Magazine or Dr. Weber are responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage resulting from the use of information contained in, or implied by the article published here.
Rebecca Weber, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist specialized in Child and Adolescent psychotherapy. She works both in private practice in Ferney-Voltaire and with the University of Geneva. Originally from California, her research and clinical work focus on gender, migrant families and school violence. For more information please visit Rebecca's website.
Kids in Mind is sponsored by the British School of Geneva.