Dare, or ask permission

Dare, or ask permission? How to coach a good kid.

My oldest daughter is what you would call a good kid. No really… She’s good. She is so good, it gets annoying. She used to ask if she could go to the bathroom… thank goodness we taught her to just go if she had to. She abides by our rules. She takes pleasure in helping people, so when I fold the laundry, she helps me do that, when I cook she asks if she can assist me in any way and when we have a house full of people, she makes sure the glasses remain full and we never run out of snacks on the table. She likes to make us lovely healthy snacks or lunches. She likes to help out our neighbors and watches their youngest son so my neighbor can go to the store. She has excellent grades, the teachers are really pleased with her attitude… I told you, she is a good girl! No, she is not a saint, she is just a good girl.

I am a rebel. A kind one, but nevertheless, a rebel. I question rules, I don’t go with the flow, I respect my own boundaries and say no every once in a while. I stand out.

My youngest girl seemingly looks a lot more like me. She goes and finds her paths in life, bumping into boundaries every now and then, is sometimes a little shaken up by the consequences of those boundaries, and then continues on her path, with the same fearlessness.

“if you don’t ask for permission all the time, you get to do more interesting things.”

Once we were at the zoo, taking an almost empty “train” from one end to the other. My youngest didn’t want to sit with us, so she climbed over the seats to a different section of the vehicle. My oldest looked at me in disbelief and asked: is she allowed to do that?

This was at a time in our parenting where I decided I could take a little more distance and transferred a little from parent to coach. I was already inviting my oldest to be a little more assertive, a little more bold then she had been up to then, a little bit naughty even, but so far I had been unsuccessful. For example, I told her it is okay to tell me that she is going to play at a friends house, instead of asking me if it was okay or not. So I recognized a good opportunity and I replied to her: “well you know, since she didn’t ask for permission, I was not triggered to think about whether she is allowed to do so or not. And now she is already there.”

My oldest thought about this remark for a while and asked: “what would have been the answer if she did ask for permission?” I said: “… probably no.” She thought a little more and asked: “may I go?” I said: “no, you may not!”

She got really mad at me and said, eyes wide open in disbelieve and anger: “but my sister is already there!“

I looked at her kindly and asked her if there was anything she could learn from this experience. After some thinking she said: “if you don’t ask for permission all the time, you get to do more interesting things.” I smiled and said: “go sit with your sister.” The weeks that followed, she tried to bend and shift our rules a little. Small steps at a time, but she was exploring her options. She experimented with doing stuff without asking permission and she also learned that even asking for permission, when you expect to hear no, might lead to surprising answers. That last part taught me that she had missed out on a lot, because whenever she had anticipated a no, she would refrain from asking at all.

I did notice that she was very much disturbed, emotionally, whenever she faced consequences on actions she had done boldly. Someone told me to be really careful, because this girl needs to feel safe! I recognized that, so I decided to continue to encourage her to be more bold, and at the same time, watch her struggle and talk to her about it and about the consequences she experiences. Making her realize that bumping into boundaries might seem scary, but at the same time, it teaches you where they are so that you know how far you are allowed to go, and usually all that happens when you crossed one is hearing someone say: “no, you can’t go there.” It doesn’t hurt, it’s not damaging…

There were few times she was inclined to give up, but then every time, she witnessed her sister getting away with something she herself would probable had asked permission for, and she was back on track again.

I am so pleased and grateful I had the insights to coach her to be more assertive, more bold. She is growing into a beautiful smart girl, who is aware of options and consequences, maybe even more aware then her younger sister, and she shows me on numerous occasions that she is capable of making really grown up decision regarding difficult matters such as friendships, or responsibilities. There is a beautiful story about her decision to always deliver her homework on time, but I will save that for another blog!

I have to admit, I was scared to push her, because sometimes she was so disturbed with facing boundaries, with hearing: “no, you’ve crossed a line”… Nevertheless, her own boundaries are more loosened by her own doing, she has enlarged the space in which she can act and explore and I can now enjoy watching her enjoy the freedom she gained by exploring her options.

She is still a really good girl! Obedient when expected, well behaved, acting good in school. And… she is eleven. She is exploring boundaries, trying to be smart mouthed at times, doing experiments while watching my face expressions carefully to look for consent or disapproval. I love it! She is safe, she is exploring, she is normal and she is a good kid!


Published on Medium on June 7, 2017

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