The Dance of Separation -- How to Empower your Child to Make Great Choices as He Begins to Individuate
My eight-year-old informed me yesterday that I am no longer allowed to call him “bear” in public. Or kiss him good-bye. Or refer to myself as “mommy” in conversations with him. A few minutes later, he looks at me out of the corner of his eye and asks, “Mom, are you a little sad that I’m growing up so fast?” He’s entirely satisfied with my quick affirmative.
Later on that evening at bedtime, he only wants cuddles and kisses. He wants me to bring him some water. He asks for an extra hug before he goes to sleep. He wonders if I have any lotion for his sunburn.
This is so normal, this dance back and forth from independence to neediness. Major individuation and separation from the family happens in fits and starts for every child. You see it in toddler-hood, around the age of eight, again at fifteen and, often, again in the twenties. As a parent, these can be gut-wrenching, yet freeing, times. As our children perform this dance it’s up to us parents to sit back and let them lead.
Eight years old is an amazing age and parenting these creatures is a bitter-sweet joy. Mine son is still my fun-loving boy, sensitive and sweet, but with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. But at times, I feel like I’m parenting a hormonal teen: moody and silent at times, not as communicative as usual, more aware of the ramifications of behavior and clothes and (sigh) girls.
As a parent, the most important thing we can do at this time is to be a constant source of love, keeping a sense of humor (but without teasing or treading on tender feelings). There are three other aspects you must keep in mind at this important time in your child’s life:
- Empowerment: at this age, your child must be empowered to make good decisions for herself. Teach her how to check in with her mind, heart and body before making decisions. What does she think? How does she feel? How does her body react when she thinks about her choices? Begin with small things, like food choices and play dates, and build up to larger decisions, like whether or not to take music lessons or if she should try out for the school play. Being empowered to make healthy choices is key to your child finding her balance in the world.
- Self-Esteem: your child’s self-esteem is on tender-hooks at this age. He is suddenly aware of other people’s opinions and is incredibly keen to feel accepted and important. One of the ways to foster his self-esteem is to discover what he is really good at and encourage him. Whether its scholastics or sports or computers or R/C cars – encourage him to excel at something. The other critical piece to self-esteem is parent’s unconditional love and undivided attention. Love the child you have and make sure he knows that your love is beyond conditions on behavior or skills or achievement. Spend one-on-one time with your child, even if it’s only for a few minutes, every single day.
- Health: by the age of eight, your child is spending more and more time away from home. Make sure she knows how to make healthy choices about food, friends and feelings. Talk to her about the choices you make around physical health. What foods are healthy? How do you choose to exercise? Why should she not smoke or do drugs? What is alcohol and what choices do you make around drinking? Make sure she is hanging around people who are good for her. What are toxic relationships? Why do you choose the friends you have? Have you ever stopped being friends with someone who wasn’t healthy for you? Talk to your child about healthy relationships. And lastly, make sure she is in touch with her feelings and knows how to process through them. Does she know to check in with her body to see how she is feeling? (Emotions will always register with some part of the body.) Does she know that she is in charge of her choices about what she does with her feelings? Does she know that she is empowered to change her circumstances and her thinking? Make sure your child is in touch and in control of her heart and mind.
This is an important time in your child’s life. I’ve given you a lot to work with and think about. Trust yourself and trust the process. But most of all, be sure to empower your child to make good choices as he flies from the nest and always offer him your unconditional love.
by: Shelly Walker