Mind Matters — Cocoons and Kids: A Necessary Struggle

Who doesn’t like butterflies? What we may not realize is that there is a struggle necessary for the caterpillar to transform into that beautiful winged creature. You see, if you made a hole in the cocoon believing that you’re helping the process, you’d actually be hindering the butterfly’s flight. For the miraculous transformation to occur, the caterpillar needs to do the work of creating his own way out.

The butterfly story may be apropos for all ages. School is back in session, so I happened upon some teachers and asked them what are their concerns with the start of the school year. In unison, they agreed that they worried that parents tried too hard to make everything right for their children, not allowing the children to struggle with little mistakes—not allowing them to find their own resourcefulness or how to work out a problem.

As ever, life is about finding the via media, the middle way, of careful balance. Of course, we as parents don’t want to leave our kids in the lurch and we need to attend to their needs, be a listening ear, monitor their behavior, be aware. On the other hand, we as parents also need to allow our children to work at finding their own solutions without our micro-managing interventions.

Both at home and at school, it may be that children are not given enough opportunity to find their own creative solutions, not only to scholastic problems, but even more so to relationship issues. It may be that now, with more “teaching to the test,” and lack of recess that children no long have the downtime, playtime necessary to work out and repair rifts with classmates or arguments with friends.

Developmentally, children need not only academic structure, but also time to develop social skills as well. We can’t do it for our children but we can create the space and give the environment in which the cocoon can thrive.

When we are most in tune with our kids, are most empathic and understanding of them, we are giving them the best nurturing environment possible. Ironically, when we are “over-invested” (trying to make an easy way out hole in the cocoon), we are not in tune with their best interests. Our job is to model for them. Patience in the face of difficulties, resourcefulness and resilience in the face of obstacles, and especially respect for self and others. We know our children need to crawl before they walk, we know they need to stumble at first when they do walk, so we can continue to let them meet their developmental challenges knowing that while we cannot live their lives for them (nor should we), we can provide them with a nourishing cocoon from which they will burst forth on their own and in their own time.