When should parents begin to let go of their kids?

Managing the change of letting go of children so they can launch into a successful life as young adults

By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach

Parents are told to give their children "roots and wings" from the time they are born until it is time to leave the nest, some twenty years later. I believe that the first part comes easier than the second, which may not come at all for some older adolescents these days. Let me explain a few factors to help you understand why some kids never seem to launch into early success as young adults.

Giving a child 'roots' is about shared traditions, Judeo-Christian values, personal accountability to a moral standard of behavior like the 10 commandments or the golden rule as well as providing a safe and loving home environment. I believe that most parents do their best to care and provide for their kids. I also believe that most parents try to build these core values into the heart of their kids which will always show up through their behavior and choices later on in life. If a child knows what they believe they are stronger and more focused to go through the teen years without getting hung up on the distractions and temptations that cause so many to stumble and fall.

Right from wrong is usually easy to spot
Frankly, I don't think most parents really struggle with knowing what they should be doing, because they know what they want their children to learn and if you ask them, they usually have a pretty clear vision of how they want their children to behave. It’s been my experience that most parents do their best to give their kids the strength of being deeply rooted into a personal belief system of some kind, especially in understanding right from wrong and how to respond to the world around them in a reasonable and responsible way.

If they aren't directly building these values into the lives of their kids, they are likely supplementing those values through Sunday school at church, some form of Christian values education (for instance, consider the great programs available through faith based groups like the YMCA), or exposure to positive messages through the entertainment and media they let their kids experience. Giving kids traditional family values will root them into knowing what they believe, but it won't always protect them when they are challenged by their peers as to why they believe it.

Most common fights are about the ‘flight plan’ between parent & child
So, how do you take a child that you have loved, cared for, taken care of and protected for their entire lifetime the right amount of space to 'fly' forward on their own wings? Let me warn you ahead of time, it's often hard to find the right level of balance on this subject and kids and parents often experience their greatest conflict during the teen years trying to figure out just the right level of responsibility and independence for each stage of life! Yet as hard as it may be for parents to even consider letting go of the children that they have invested so much time and energy into, it is essential for the child’s healthy development and inner strength as a person who will one day have to move out and move on as a young adult to tackle issues directly throughout their life without the security of knowing that mom and dad’s watchful care is always going to be near. The goal is for them to know what they believe, and when tested, to pass the test and live out those beliefs in spite of the pressures around them.

Dangerous truth- over-protective parents create weaker kids
Here's why this is such a problem for some loving parents. If you never let a child test their wings by moving a little further away from mom or dad's care, then sometimes they end up developing the symptoms of fear, extreme shyness or a social phobia and end up being afraid of moving forward in life. Not all kids will develop psychological or emotional fears because of overprotective parents, but it can be one of several factors that slows down their personal development and inner strength to move forward toward the next stage of life. Yes, we love our kids, but remember, part of that love is to equip them and prepare them to one day leave the nest to literally launch forward, just like a space shuttle launch sequence at Kennedy Space Center.

Think about all of the years of planning and thousands of challenges that have to be overcome to create a successful launch into space. Literally everything that takes place for the years leading up to a rocket or orbiter launch date is done to safely and strategically accomplish the goal of getting that rocket into space and to another place. That’s the driving force of those NASA engineers- to get that bird off the ground at Cape Canaveral and into orbit toward the stars.

I love the line from the movie, “Astronaut Farmer” (staring Billy Bob Thornton), where the father-in-law tells his wanna-be astronaut son-in-law, “I really respect you son. Most dad’s can’t get their families to share a meal at the table together and you- you’ve got your whole family dreaming together!” The film shows the power of never giving up on a life-long dream of orbiting the earth, and more importantly the courage, patience and teamwork of a whole family coming together to make that dream a reality.

Space flight can be a lot like parenting, we spend years getting them ready to have a successful launch because one day we know that we will have to do a launch sequence to countdown the days as they head out to another stage of life. This is the way that God designed it- kids are supposed to move out and move on to build lives of their own. If overprotective parents stall that process, it scrubs the launch and leaves the child stranded on the launch pad, while their peers are blasting off toward early success in life. No one wins and it often sets the child up for tremendous problems that could have been solved if the parents had taken a different and more directive approach.

Blast off- or blow up?
When kids are well equipped to launch into early success during their young adult years they soar and it’s a joy to watch. If you have ever seen a launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida you know what I mean- words can hardly describe the power and the sheer excitement of knowing that not even gravity can stop that rocket from what it was designed to do- blast off toward the stars! However, when what I’ve been referring to as the parenting ‘launch sequence’ is interrupted by well meaning, (or sometimes fearful) parents they often blow up, because the kids crash in some way. Sadly, these days it seems there are more crashes than successful launches. (And you are probably thinking about someone you know stuck in this painful process right now).

So what to do? Here are some parenting tips to coach you through the process of parenting strategies through every stage of childhood to build strong kids now, so they can one day go out and build successful lives as adults. That’s a parent’s job, to give them the roots of belief and then equip them with the wings of healthy resources to fly.

When this process happens, a child grows through each stage of life with a better experience and then grows stronger from the momentum of moving forward in a powerful way because they were set up to win by parents who weren’t afraid to point them toward the stars and launch into the life that God designed for them to live.

Parenting Stages to build strong kids:
Here are some of the key developmental stages and strategies to guide you toward a successful launch with your child.

Birth to puberty, (ages 0-12)-
Kids need a 'caretaker' who can teach and help with daily tasks and skills while the child gradually is learning these skills from their parent, especially in the important areas of self-discipline and responsibility. Psychologist John Trent calls this process ‘soft love mixed with hard love’, (See “The Two Sides of Love” published by Focus on the Family Publishing, 1999)

Puberty to College Years, (12-21)-
The parenting strategy to use during the teen years is a combination of part counselor and part coach to help guide through the emotional issues of building relationships and dealing with hurt feelings; while balancing the tasks of learning to deal with difficulties in life and making wise educational or career choices.

College years to Adulthood, (21-30)-
I believe that we always need our parents- it’s just that the need changes as we grow older. Little kids need a parent to help with personal hygiene, teens need their parents to help them develop healthy habits and by this stage young adults need honest advice and direction. These years are a great time for the parent/adult-child relationship to prosper since the young adult is out on their own dealing with life, yet still needs a 'consultant' to bounce ideas off of as their build a life independent of their parents to firmly establish a life of their own.

I want you to know that millions of other parents have successfully launched their child from birth toward adulthood and you can too. There is a sign in the launch control room of the Kennedy Space Center that says it well, “It takes a team- to launch a dream.”

Know that you are not alone in this process. There are hundreds of resources available at our website as well as links to dozens of other groups that are driven by the desire to help you experience the great joy of watching a dream take flight, as well as provide the tools and training to help you if you’ve already crashed to get past the nightmare and not be afraid to dream again about what your son or daughter could be when they launch into a life of their own.

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About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He partners with media, major corporations and non-profit organizations to make a positive difference in our culture. Access more counseling and coaching resources designed to save you time by solving stressful situations by visiting his counseling blog with over 200 complimentary articles and special reports at www.LifeWorksGroup.org

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