The Irony of a Safety Net

Do you remember as a kid when you watched the acrobats who would swing high in the air, leaping from swing to swing, catching each other, holding each other by hands or feet, and then triumphantly all end up at one side unscathed?

What always struck me was that confidence and quiet strength of all their body parts. Graceful but steely, focused but carefree. They would fly through the air as if there was nothing to be scared of. Meanwhile my stomach would drop to my feet, shuddering with fear about their impeding deaths should they fall. Most do it with a safety net, but I feel like I’ve seen them do it without.

How did they get so good!?

Like gymnasts and tightrope walkers, they probably learn a lot of their balance and movements on the ground. Then do a lot of strength training and some theory probably. I mean, I’m no expert so I’m just guessing, but my real point is that they never learn how to do their dangerous stunts during the performance. There are a lot of steps they have to take, movements they have to perfect, and pieces to put together, before they go up in the air. They have a safety net that catches them when (not if) they mess up.

A safety net, like a lot of the other training leading up to the final performance, is all there to gradually build the acrobat up to the level they need to be at in order to do their job. But all the way until then, they always have a safety net. Because of the safety net, they can perform as if they don’t need one.

When people have safety nets, they are empowered to experiment or push harder. They have the freedom to practice with lower stakes to perfect what they are learning to do. The irony of a safety net is: if you use it right, you don’t need it. But if you don’t use it, no one can learn what they need to learn because it’s too risky.

As parents, our role is to help our children learn. A lot of the times, we are asking them to do things that they just aren’t ready to do yet. And if they can’t do it, feel unsafe doing it, or do not yet have the confidence to do it, making them do it isn’t going to help. We have to hear them and understand where they are and what they need.

We must ensure they have safety nets! What would providing them a safety net look like? What would teaching them various skills look like? How about how to trust their judgment?

You can’t learn to do something hard without the ability to fail and get up again.

How do we ensure that kids feel comfortable making tough decisions with conflicting values? How do we give them the opportunity to slowly work their way up to the tough ones? We allow them to do so with all the little ones, like doing the dishes badly, making a decision not to do homework, arguing about their bedtime or tech time. These are all little baby steps towards becoming a flying trapeze acrobat (translation: adult) who can do it all with ease.

Published by Sherry Yuan Hunter

Sherry Yuan Hunter is a certified trauma recovery coach and certified parenting coach. Taiwan-born American-Canadian Chinese, married, working mother of two, Sherry identifies as a Sandwich Parent, Third Culture Kid, an untigering Mom, and recovering shouldaholic. Based in Toronto, Canada, Sherry has been working in student success programs at University of Toronto for 20 years, supporting students, young professionals, new managers, working moms, and new immigrants to success.

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