Trusting Our Children, Trusting Ourselves

My son is fifteen months old and he just now started to walk. Despite repeated assertions from trained  professionals that he should be walking at eleven months old, or twelve months at the latest, he still wasn’t. And even I, a graduate of Alpine Valley School and a champion of individual freedoms, got worried. The questions and doubts seemed unavoidable: Was I the problem? Could I be doing something wrong? Should I be pushing him harder? Buying more toys that encourage walking? It was maddening.

I don’t know any parent who hasn’t experienced this sort of conundrum with any number of milestones that we are supposed to be checking off our “My Child is Okay” list. We feel responsible for our children from the time they come into the world and with that duty in mind it is so easy to get sucked into hyper-vigilance and mindlessly pushing our kids towards those things that we feel they need to be doing. However, it has been our experience in 50 years of Sudbury schooling that children do better in life, and our relationships with our kids are better, if we simply trust and let them be.

Magda Gerber, creator of REI and early childhood development specialist, puts it this way: “I have spent my adult life trying to figure out why parents and society put themselves into a race — what’s the hurry? I keep trying to convey the pleasure every parent and teacher could feel while observing, appreciating and enjoying what the infant is doing. This attitude would change our educational climate from worry to joy.”

With this in mind I created my own mantra: “Everything in its own time,” which I repeated silently to myself whenever worries about my son’s walking arose. It didn’t completely eliminate the concerns, but it helped me to cultivate the environment of trust and patience that is my ideal. And then, on Christmas morning, my son took his honest-to-goodness first steps and it felt like an outright miracle. He did it entirely on his own, without me pushing, encouraging, guiding, or demonstrating, and when those little unsteady steps unfolded his face lit up with pride and satisfaction.

I see this same experience with our students at Alpine Valley School. When children undertake a challenge entirely on their own they are able to reap the psychological rewards of their success and the opportunities that stem from failure. They can ask for help when they need it and, of course, we will be happy to assist them, but the ultimate ownership for their accomplishment is on their shoulders. Having experienced this kind of freedom firsthand I can tell you it’s powerful stuff. It starts when children are little, to be sure, but the culture of trust we have at school and in the families that support us lasts a lifetime. For me, the trust in myself I learned as a student at Alpine Valley School around me has become a fundamental part of who I am and now I’m getting to pass it on to my own child in my own way.

Now if only he would learn to talk! (Just kidding.)

Missa Gallivan is an Alpine Valley School graduate and staff member. She is also the mother of a future AVS student (in about four years) and step-parent to two amazing teenagers. 

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