Once, there was a loving mother who wanted nothing but the best for her young daughter. She did everything she could and spared no expense. She was caring, nurturing and encouraging. She sought out environments in which Cindy would thrive and avoided situations that might not work out so well.
One day, this loving mother decided it would be fun to explore an amusement park with Cindy. It was a beautiful day. There would be popcorn, and games, and rides and best of all, they would be together–making a memory.
When they got there, it was everything she’d hoped. There were acres of fascinating things to do and see. But the most exciting and mysterious thing in the whole place was the roller coaster. Cindy was absolutely captivated by it.
And why wouldn’t she be? It was huge! She’d been watching it for miles even before they’d arrived. Like the skeleton of a great dinosaur, its track spanned the entire park. Everywhere, you could hear it coming or going. While Cindy threw balls, the cars clacked overhead. While Cindy raced to keep up with a melting ice cream cone, the cars plunged and people screamed. The ground shook as a tunnel beneath her swallowed them up. And always people were pointing and nudging and daring each other to ride it.
Finally, Cindy asked, “Mommy? Can we go on the roller coaster?” She was young, but not too young. She was small, but not too small. She had seen younger and smaller children on the ride.
“Are you sure?” asked her mother. “It looks pretty scary.”
Cindy was sure. She was absolutely sure. She couldn’t be more sure. So they bought their tickets. They got in line. The operator buckled them in and they started to climb. And Cindy got scared.
Her mother tried to calm her. Held her hand. Told her it was fun. Cindy whined. She pleaded. She cried. She screamed. No. This was anything but fun. This was the opposite of fun.
Cindy’s mother knew there was no real danger. Of this she was sure. Absolutely sure. Couldn’t be more sure. They were perfectly safe–but how to convince Cindy? To see her child so afraid, so inconsolable, was almost unbearable. All she wanted now was to get back on solid ground, sweep Cindy up in her arms, and save her from this pain.
“It’s okay, Cindy,” she said. “I’m here. It’s just fun. Are you sure you want to get off?”
Cindy was sure. She was absolutely sure. She couldn’t be more sure. But the highest peak was just ahead. So Cindy’s mother did what she thought was right. She waved. She yelled. She screamed. In order to stop the fear she had to stop the ride. Still, the climb began: above the games, above the buildings, above the treetops. The view was spectacular. Cindy and her mother didn’t notice.
“STOP! PLEASE STOP!” They screamed, waving their arms, feeding a gripping fear. Finally they reached the top, and a confused operator stopped the ride.
“I’m sorry,” he said after climbing up. “I can’t let you off here. It’s too dangerous.” Of this he was sure. Absolutely sure. Couldn’t be more sure. So he pushed the cars on. Now everyone screamed.
When it was over, and they were all screamed out, Cindy stepped onto the platform and toward the exit ramp. Her tears had dried, but she had a wild look in her eyes.
“Are you alright?” the operator asked.
“Yes!” Said Cindy. “Wow yes!”
Her mother wasn’t so sure.
Parenting is a wild ride. Still, understanding the metaphor doesn’t make watching our kids struggle any easier. Often, however, relieving them a moment’s unhappiness deprives them the exciting results of their own choices. Protecting them is one thing. But when we rush in too quickly, we also deprive our children a chance to develop the skills and emotional control they’ll need to navigate the inevitably challenging and often difficult demands along the most amazing ride of all: life.
Founder of WeTeachWeLearn.org, Chris Wondra is just another Wisconsin public school teacher. Find We Teach We Learn on Facebook and Twitter for daily tips on getting the most out of your brain. Email Chris at: firstname.lastname@example.org.