Chris and Holly Santillo are authors of the book Resilience Parenting, and a website by the same name. Chris is also founder and head instructor at Potomac Kempo, a martial arts studio with four locations in Alexandria, VA. Holly is the founding conductor of Mount Vernon Children’s Choir -- and a Senior Instructor at Potomac Kempo. At the moment they are on sabbatical, exploring the world with their three children.
Resilience Parenting for Independence
by Chris and Holly Santillo
We all want our children to have functional and fulfilling lives. We know they need to be independent in order to thrive as adults, yet it seems that many parents are reluctant or ill-equipped to teach that independence in early childhood. There is a false assumption that increasing a child’s independence means a loss of connection. Not so! In Resilience Parenting we show that we can empower our children to become more independent, while strengthening the connectedness we all crave.
A story from our family illustrates this concept:
A few days ago, we were walking in one of Indiana’s beautiful county parks with our three sons, searching for wildflowers, when we came upon a tempting challenge. An enormous upended tree stretched across the creek to a little island, beckoning the boys with adventure’s siren song. We could see, however, that the crossing was risky. Many of the smaller branches near the island were submerged. And the water, while shallow, was swift. An overly cautious parent would steer the kids clear or hold their hands all the way across. But a parent striving to encourage independence and connectedness would seize the opportunity to let them go. And so:
Parents: Boys, it looks like this water is moving pretty fast. What are you going to do if you fall in?
Boys: Grab a branch and hold on!
Parents (noticing that actually the fat trunk offered few branches for grabbing): Okay, and what if that doesn’t work?
Parents (resisting the temptation to fill the silence as they struggle to find the answer, then hinting): How deep is the water?
Boys: Oh! It’s not very deep. We can just stand up.
With this, they started off and then… splash! The 6-year-old slipped and, just as he had foretold, caught hold of that branch, clinging as the water fought to wash him downstream. We waited for him to make the next move, allowing him to struggle, until his brothers, who had already made it across, reminded him, “Find your feet!” With a few grunts, he pulled himself to a standing position and made it to the island.
After he caught his breath, we asked if he realized that he had assessed the danger and come up with a plan -- and that the plan had worked? That's success! Then we talked about a story we'd all read, when Laura Ingalls was nearly swept away by Plum Creek.
Our son is already telling this story with pride. He earned a new level of independence, and we still felt totally connected -- maybe even moreso, because he saw we trusted him and his brothers.