In the wild, you will see time and time again, the mother of a species forging ahead, with her children following behind her. From ducklings to polar bears, these mothers know without a doubt that their young will follow their lead, and in turn, those tiny ducklings and bears know that they must follow their mother in order to ensure their survival.
We can look on at them in wonder, but it may surprise you to learn that this drive to follow and stay near their parent, is actually a drive that our species is born with too. As infants we cry when separated from our mother, knowing that she is our key to making it in this big new world. As we begin to crawl and feel more brave, we may begin to branch out further and further, however we will always keep tabs on our protectors whereabouts. As we approach our first birthday, we may cry when we loose sight of this important person, experiencing those frightening feelings of separation anxiety, knowing that our rightful place is with the very person we can no longer see.
Given the right circumstances, this drive to follow and keep close to our primary caregiver, remains intact. Children understand that it is in their best interests to go with their parent, though this knowledge comes entirely from their natural instincts, and is not a logical thought process.
So why is it that so many modern parents find that their children run away from them on a regular basis? Why do we see parents chasing toddlers through the park or having a stand off with their pre-teen who won’t leave the beach?
Why aren’t our children following us?
The answers to this question are actually very simple, and when you understand exactly what makes a child run, it becomes very easy to identify the cause.
It all begins during the time when a child begins to move around. In our helicopter parent society, it is normal for parents to hover around their children as they move. As they begin to toddle, parents walk nervously behind or beside them, keeping pace at all times. No matter where they are, the parent is following, never allowing the child to branch out and explore. This confuses the natural balance of things. In no other species will you see a mother following her child. It is not the way nature intended. We are so fearful, though of what I am not entirely sure, that we dare not leave our child’s side to lead the way. This sends them a powerful message, undermining their instinct to follow, and teaching them that they are the leaders.
The next thing we do is that we rush. When we tell our children to follow us, we don’t believe that they will comply. We call half heartedly, again sending a clear message that we don’t expect them to cooperate, and then, before giving them the chance to come of their own volition, we scoop them up or rush over to them, taking away their chance to follow the instruction.
We have to remember that children are beings in their own right. When you say “lets go,” it is unreasonable of you to expect immediate response. Their curiosity will cause them to pause, investigate and take their time. This can be frustrating for parents, and dent their confidence that their child will ever come, but giving them the time and respect to follow slowly will produce the desired result. That doesn’t mean leaving on their schedule. Simply giving a five or ten minute warning to let them finish up their task, then when it is time to go, collecting your things and beginning a slow and unpressurised walk, letting them know it’s time, is all that it takes.
How do I know that given the right circumstances, children WANT to follow? Because my own son does, because I have worked with hundreds of children, and aside from children who had severe disabilities, ALL of them followed when they realised my expectations. From the moment my son began to walk I would take him to a nearby enclosed park, and simply take a walk around the perimeter. I would lead the way, stopping every few steps to enable him to catch up to me. We often walked holding hands, but my role as the leader was clear, and he never questioned it. If he wandered in a different direction, I would wait, catch his eye, then continue on in the direction I was heading, to let him know I expected him to follow. I trusted that he would. Now at two and a half years old, I trust beyond a doubt that he will always follow. I am his safety, his anchor and his instinct tells him that his survival depends on being with me.
If we continue to send these messages of uncertainty, of distrust and fear, our children will pick up on them and act accordingly. The human species is a miraculous being, and it is these survival instincts that have insured we have made it this far.
So now, I would love to hear from you about any issues you are having with your child running away or not following you. Leave me a comment below, and if you know someone who would enjoy this article, please do share it with them. Don’t forget to sign up to follow the blog at the bottom of the page to get more on natural parenting direct to your inbox.