‘what’ you teach your kids…

When I first asked Harlow if she wanted to go abseiling today, she automatically replied ‘yes’… her next words were ‘what is abseiling’.

The first smile of my day.

The reason I wanted to share this experience with you is because it is a moment in my life (another one) where the realisation of ‘what you teach your kids’ – is so important. But when I say ‘what’… it may be different to what you’re thinking.

Within about 10 minutes we were in the car, munching down breaky and ready to go and see what this ‘abseiling’ thing was about, Harlow’s first time ever time. As we made our way to the top of the mountain, we sang songs, played eye spy, looked out for wildlife and really just enjoyed the time, Harlow seemed to have no thought what so ever of what was coming.

No longer then getting out of the car at the top, Harlow was quickly setup in a harness, helmet and gloves – ready to do this ‘abseiling’ thing we talked about this morning. We met a good friend of mine who is a guide in the mountain. He was taking some other kids for the abseiling experience and we were fortunate enough that Harlow could join.

As we made our way over to where the ropes were, we see Tim standing on the top of a rock boulder, about 10m high. He looked over and said, ‘ok Harlow – its your turn’. Harlow was a little cautious, but equally interested at the same time as she had just seen another little girl clinging to the side of the wall, a little concerned at going off the side.

As Tim got her tied in and explained a few simple steps to follow for safely abseiling, Harlow made her way to the edge of a 10m rock wall… very slowly may I add.

As a dad, this was an amazing experience.

One, I knew full well that Harlow was safe and other then possibly a few scratches from the rock, couldn’t really be hurt at all. But two… I was able to sit back and actually observe how Harlow reacted to a new challenge in life (and a challenge some would see as pretty big in life for a 5 year old – if you’ve ever stood at the top of a 10m wall, that could be a challenge no matter how old you are!).

As parents, my wife and I have never been ones to believe that you need to push kids into doing things they don’t like. We are much more from the belief that if you allow them the time and space to be interested and curious enough… the time will come when they want to do it. So for Harlow going to the edge of the cliff was completely on her own terms.

Her first attempt she only got a few steps and than Tim offered to go down with her, which even doing this would not feel natural to a kid. Leaning all of your weight backwards down a pretty big drop and trusting that you will be held by yourself holding a rope. She managed a couple of times down with Tim and she slowly started to build some confidence.

Next up was a bigger wall just across the gorge. Straight away Harlow was completely energised to go and see (and try) this bigger wall. She watched a couple of the other kids go down and than as Tim called her over she (in her own body) had decided that she wanted to go down by herself!

I was sitting pretty close to her when she said this and after seeing one of the older kids go down (and knowing myself what its like) I asked her if maybe she just wanted to try a couple more times with Tim. Nope she said… its easy. ‘I didn’t really like the little climb over there and I was waiting for the big one to go by myself’. I’m sure you could imagine the smile on my face as she said this to me.

‘Ok’ I said, knowing again that she would be completely safe. It was more the fact that I didn’t want her to scare herself too much in anyway that she wouldn’t quite enjoy it anymore. As I watched my little girl, walking backwards to a cliff (that was probably twice as high as the first one) I couldn’t stop smiling. Sure I spent some time talking to her, reminding her of ‘feet wide apart like riding Shady (her horse), lean back and… thinking of Unicorns riding rainbows (as she quite often does?!?), but inside myself I was bursting with excitement and proud disbelief that she was actually doing what she was doing.

Step by step she made her way closer to the edge, I could see her mind and body working hard to try and co-ordinate the movement necessary to lean back far enough to move but also hold tight enough to arrest your fall. Before I knew it she was a good 5 steps down the wall.

By now, I am sure you could sense the smile that came across me as I watched my little girl go from asking what abseiling was, to actually abseiling off a wall equivalent to about 5 stories high by herself in about 2 hours.

Harlow’s abseiling experience finished not long after this as she made her way all the way down the wall. Boy was she smiling and bouncing at her new accomplishment – and definitely deserved so.

The experience finished and we went for a swim in the lake afterwards (undie swim) as we hadn’t had enough time to pack properly for whatever else we wanted to do in the mountain that day and then made our way back down.

Later that afternoon, when Mum got home from work Harlow couldn’t wait to tell her how easy abseiling was and the fact that all you had to do was put legs wide apart, lean back and think of Unicorns riding rainbows!

The rest of the day passed and we went back on with the things we just do on the weekend.

Later that night, I caught myself still smiling at the days events. Sure, there was a part of that smile dedicated to the fact that Harlow actually enjoyed abseiling and was already looking forward to doing it again, but I think even more so, was the fact of seeing what’s truly important in teaching your kids at an early age.

And this is where the ‘What’ may be different to what you were thinking.

You see, it was definitely not teaching Harlow how to abseil, use ropes, hold ropes, move your feet, lean backwards into a gully that drops off a long way… it was anything but this. The ‘What’ was teaching Harlow from a very young age to experience new things, to encourage her to be curious, to understand that its Ok to feel that funny scared feeling inside, but also teaching her what to do with that when she feels it.

Teaching her that feelings don’t always mean how most people react to situations, that sometimes those feelings are just there to remind you to take a breath, relax and maybe, just maybe pause for a minute or at the very least… just take a baby step.

The other teaching was for Leeah and myself. Constantly reminding each other as Harlow grows up to simply stand back a little more and let her explore her own experiences, limits, feelings.

Many people would probably comment to my wife and I that ‘Well Harlow has two parents that get out and do almost anything and everything anyways’ so it just makes sense that she would do something like this easy. And although true, (although I still don’t believe Leeah would abseil of that cliff as Harlow did today), this is an instance where she went into a situation which has never been in before, didn’t know anything about or how to do it. And it’s obviously something that’s caught my attention – otherwise I wouldn’t still be sitting here smiling and writing this blog about it.

So what can we do as parents in teaching our kids to be more curious and engage in new experiences/adventures? It’s simple.

Be that yourself!

Its often far to easy as mums and dads to jump into our child’s life and steer them where we want them to head, how we want them to react, what they should be scared of, what it means when we feel scared, happy, sad and which things in life make us feel these things… that’s just natural instinct as a parent.

But is it doing more harm then good? Remember, this isn’t a matter of doing things right or wrong as a parent, as Leeah and I would confess we would do many things that maybe we would liked to have done better or different. Its more a matter of just creating some space to see what your child may make of it without your input.

To stand back as a parent and pause for a moment when they are about to experience something new in life may just be one of the greatest gifts you could give both your child AND yourself (Of course we are talking about doing this in a safe environment and we wouldn’t let our kids just wander curiously across a 4-lane highway to be curious).

Remember, as a kid (and even as an adult), experiencing something brand new is an incredible feeling to have in life. Finding out how something new works, taking a baby step into a direction you’ve never been before or just experiencing a new feeling from doing something you never thought you could do is what life is truly about.

When we influence our children with our own beliefs, worry’s or fears, just try to be aware if this is actually really teaching them the best thing. Perhaps when we pause and think about it for a moment, we are just teaching them something we were taught as a child ourselves and therefor it became hard or scary or a belief that we didn’t know what to do when we felt that feeling.

The ‘What’ we teach our kids that’s so important is far from the actual details of a situation, movement or sport itself (like Harlow and the abseiling)… it is simple to be curious in life… to be open to new experiences, explore new boundaries, see the fun in doing something new and embrace the feelings we get when we do these things (even if they are a little scary feeling).

And at the end of the day… if the only thing that comes from doing this is your child see’s you looking at them and smiling – well, what more do we need to teach!

Thanks kindly to Tim from Absolute Outdoors and Sarah (our friend from Wandi) for the photos.