Teaching Your Children the Power of Letting Go
Letting go isn't just a spiritual coin phrase, it’s not passive, ambivalent, lazy, or giving up – it’s is an important life skill that needs to be developed in our children.
The tricky thing about letting go is that it’s one of those things that has a double meaning – sometimes we need to let go, while others times we need to persevere. For example, if we're tackling a particularly challenging problem, we definitely wouldn’t want to just give up. But if we were drowning in a toxic relationship, then letting go is the smartest thing that we can do.
Teaching our children to let go means that we instill the necessary tools they need in order to know when it’s appropriate or healthy to let go of something or someone. The most common reason that people hang onto things that they ought to release is fear and children need the tools to properly evaluate when and how to let go.
How Do You Let Go?
Stop internalizing: There's a lovely, little story in the picture book, Zen Shorts, by Jon J. Muth. In it, two traveling monks come across a privileged and arrogant woman who is scolding her servants to carry her across a large puddle so she won't spoil her silken robes. The younger monk ignores the lady while the older one picks her up, carries her on his back, and puts her down on the other side. The ungrateful woman doesn't thank the older monk, shoves him aside, and never looks back.
The two monks continue on their way, with the younger one brooding and upset. After several hours, he bursts out to complain about the rude woman's behavior. To which, the older monk simply replies, "I set the woman down hours ago, why are you still carrying her?"
There's an incredibly important lesson in this for us all. We simply can't let someone else's negativity become our burden. Sometimes, all you can really do is just let go. Modeling this type of attitude throughout your day will resonate with your child and help them let go of the negativity they encounter in their own lives.
Stop procrastinating: Let’s face it, procrastination is the worst, but it's a pal to accumulation. Whether it’s paying a bill, cleaning out the hall closet, starting a diet or exercise regime, or ending a relationship, we all let fear or laziness talk us out of moving forward and taking action. And then, of course, the burdens begin to add up. Procrastination is a bad habit that gets reinforced over time, so it’s important to teach our children early on in their lives to take charge of that little voice in their heads that tells them that they can just do it “later.” Here, letting go means letting go of the negativity within yourself, in order to move forward.
Teach your children to love themselves: A huge lesson in letting go is teaching our little ones the importance of self-esteem. A lot of people struggle with letting go of something or someone, because at some level they don’t believe that they deserve anything better – or that they can't manage on their own. Insecurity gets in the way of taking the necessary risks to grow and flourish. Begin building your child’s sense of self-worth early on, so that when they’re presented with having to let go of something or to take an important risk, they will have the self-esteem to move onto bigger and better things.
Live in the moment: When we’re afraid to let go of something, it’s usually because we are either stuck in the past. When we teach our little ones to live in the present, they will find the courage to let go, and won’t let the past keep them from moving forward.
Release control: The people who have the hardest time letting go in their lives usually have issues with control (this one I know). Our children can’t let go if they are too fixated on controlling the outcome. None of us have any idea what is going to happen in life – all that we can do is let go and trust.
Children need to understand that things don't always turn out how you want them to. This is a huge lesson in resiliency. They need to know that mistakes are opportunities for growth, as well as for unexpected surprises. Acknowledge risk-taking and efforts to face new challenges, and if the results are 100% perfect, teach them to look forward to the next attempt.
Reduce the material clutter: As devastating as it was on my family—the most powerful lesson we learned about letting go was losing our home and all of our belongings to a fire. I would never wish that kind of a loss on anyone, but I will say that when you lose everything, you realize how important people are and you are no longer defined by your attachment to “things.”
Letting go of material clutter is another important ritual in making space for growth. A build up of things can become just as burdensome as emotional or mental hang ups, and hold us back. Help your child sort through their own material clutter by showing them how to see the bigger picture. For example, if your child doesn’t want to let go of some toys that they have outgrown, you can help them look at the past and see that they don’t play with the toys anymore, and then look into the future to see that letting go of the old toys can help needy children who don’t have any.
I have a favorite saying when it comes to letting go, and that is “Let it go, it’s time to grow.”
What are some ways you teach your children to let go?