You should dress warmly—what about an extra sweater?
Please finish your soup—you haven’t eaten much today.
It’s cold outside and they’re calling for freezing rain. Have you thought about staying in?
We’ve all heard this kind of conversation—but I wasn’t speaking to my child.
Supporting my 92-year-old mother on a recent visit, I noticed myself commenting on her daily routine and chores—and realized how disempowering my words might be.
I had to stop and ask myself if I was undermining her independence.
Granted, I’m worried about her safety, but have I assessed the actual risks before speaking?
When I was raising my daughter, I had to be conscious of how my words shaped her experience of life during our interactions. I didn’t want to say “that’s not a good idea, you’ll be sorry you did it that way” or “you’re not going to wear that to school, you’ll be laughed at.”
I wanted to empower her to formulate her own thoughts; I wanted her to experience life first-hand. Whenever possible, I wanted her to make her own decisions.
I wanted her to be independent.
True empowerment increases our autonomy and self-determination.
I’ve experienced this personally and also in community. Empowerment allows us to represent our interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on our own authority. As a Yoga Educator at DevaTree, student self-determination is a key part of the methodology in creating empowered learning environments.
And as a facilitator in Wild Child (a child-led program for kids and parents), children play-wander in nature without a specific destination or goal in mind. Nature provides challenges and is the greatest playground for exercising self-determination.
The parents often say things like, “don’t climb that log; you’ll fall and hurt yourself,” or “don’t go into the mud; you’ll get dirty and I’m not going to get you out if you’re stuck.”
As parents we often try to protect our kids (or ourselves) without fully assessing the situation.
Perhaps we do this because it’s what our parents said to us. We all want our kids to be safe, so it’s understandable we speak protectively without thinking too much about the actual risks.
I support parents to empower their kids before reacting to what they deem risky because it might not be as dangerous as they think. They learn to trust that children usually know their own limitations and we don’t have to put out every fire before it happens.
Empowering children so they can be equipped to make choices—and make mistakes—helps them find their way with more ease and confidence, now and later in life.
And so it is with my 92-year-old mother.
I catch myself speaking in a protective way because I want to know she’s safe. But reflecting on her autonomy and dignity, I back off, just enough to allow true empowerment a seat at the table.
Are you experiencing this dance between empowerment and protectiveness in your life?
I’d love to hear, in the comments below.