Knowing When to Let go

How not to cut the cocoon

I was on the phone with a friend of mine who was in the car on the way home with her kids. Once she parked in front of the house, she wanted to continue the conversation so she gave her two children the key to the house so they can go in without her. As we were talking she was distracted watching her daughter struggling to open the door. She said “sometimes you need to let your children struggle a little to figure things out on their own”.  I agreed with her statement as she hesitated to get out of the car to help her, she then cheered when her daughter did it without her.  I wanted to write about knowing when to let go and my conversation with her was my inspiration. As parents, we want to do so much for our children that sometimes we don’t allow them to soar on their own. We want to protect them, so they do not have to struggle, but without the struggle how will they grow?  If we tell them everything and they don’t ever experience anything, its not the same.

There is a story I use when I train other clinicians who are earning hours to become play therapists. Its about a Cocoon and a Butterfly and how to truly help others and not enable them ( I have abbreviated it below, click on the link to read the entire story.

One day, a man saw a cocoon. He loved butterflies… He knew how a butterfly would struggle to transform from an ugly caterpillar into a beautiful one.

He saw the cocoon with a tiny opening. It meant that the butterfly was trying to make its way out to enjoy the world… He decided to watch how the butterfly would come out of the cocoon. Unfortunately, even after continuous attempts for several hours, there was no progress. It seemed that the butterfly had tried its best and could not give any more try.

The man, who had a passion and love for butterflies, decided to help the butterfly. He got a pair of scissors and tweaked the cocoon to make larger opening for the butterfly and removed the remaining cocoon. The butterfly emerged without any struggle!

Unfortunately, the butterfly looked no longer beautiful and had a swollen body with small and withered wings…He continued to watch the butterfly and was quite eager to see it fly with its beautiful wings…Unfortunately, neither did the wings expand nor the swollen body reduce…the butterfly just crawled around with withered wings and a huge body. It was never able to fly…The continuous effort from the butterfly to come out of its cocoon would let the fluid stored in the body be converted into wings. Thus, the body would become lighter and smaller, and the wings would be beautiful and large.

Sometimes we prevent our children from the struggle they need in order to succeed.  A lot of that has to do with our impatience’s and being uncomfortable with watching the struggle. My friend proceeded to tell about a time when her daughter was a baby learning to roll over. Her daughter was having difficulty and was stuck. Her husband told her to “just roll her over” because she was being cruel just watching her struggle, but my friend knew even at that young age, her daughter had to learn this on her own.

What happens when we continuously prevent our children from struggling, they become dependent, sometimes entitled or sheltered. We are not doing them a service, just making things easier or better for them. This doesn’t allow them to come into their own person. How do you know when you should let go of the control? Answer the following questions:

How will my help impact them?

Is this something I must do for them?

Can they figure it out on their own?

Do they just need some support to figure it out?

Can I teach them instead of telling them or doing for them?

Now, the key is to know your child and their developmental level to answer those questions accurately.  For my friend, her teenaged daughter should be able to use a key to open a front door. Also, as a baby, she needed to build the strength in her body on her own to be able to roll over and crawl.  To tell a child at age eight that she can make the Thanksgiving turkey because she aspires to be a chef… I think you know the answer to that one. 

Just remember, try not to cut the cocoon. Patience in essential in growth!


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