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A five-year-old girl told her mother that she was running away. She then put on her Sunday best, did her hair as only a five-year-old can and came back into the living room expecting her mother to engage in a power struggle as to why she could not run away.

“I’m going to miss you,” the mother said.

“Hmph,” came the girl’s reply, and she headed out the door— complete with a packed bag.

The mother stood by the window and watched as her daughter headed up the street. She had gone less than half a block when a car went by that the girl didn’t recognize. The five-year-old, realizing that she was outside of her comfort zone, burst into tears and went running back into the house.

Why can’t every mother have the foresight of this one? The gumption it must have required to say “I’m going to miss you!” This headstrong five-year-old was testing the mother frequently, and the mother cleverly avoided a verbal barrage of threats and “no-you-can’ts.”

Here is a similar story. A little boy was throwing rocks into his grandpa’s lake from the dock, as he often does. When he ran out of rocks, the boy announced that he’d walk up to the cabin to get the bag, not knowing that the bag weighed about 60 pounds.

Grandpa let him go without saying a word. A moment later, the boy asked Grandpa for help because the bag was too heavy. Grandpa later said “Why tell him he can’t? Why tell him no? Letting him ask for help is a healthy exercise as well.”

One final story. An eight-year-old came to his dad with his eyes dancing and said, “Daddy, I’m taking my shovel to the creek, and I’m building a dam. That way, years from now, I can swim in it.”

His dad encouraged him, and the boy went on his way. What the dad didn’t do is list the myriad of reasons why that wouldn’t work.

Each of these stories were witnessed and then told to me by central Illinoisans. The point is this: Look for opportunities to let youngsters learn by doing. Too often parents say “no” when they can say “yes,” or they respond to a situation when they may not have to say anything at all.

It is easy to shoot down a proposed endeavor from a youngster simply because it doesn’t fit into an adult’s schedule or because extra work might result. For example, my boys had asked repeatedly for help putting a “pond” in the backyard (it really meant digging a shallow hole in a raised garden, putting in a tarp and filling it with water).

Countless excuses went through my head—it’s hot, you’ll get muddy, you’ll make more work for your mom, etc. But the boys wanted to work. Together. With Dad. And what is more important than that? IBI

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