No doubt if you are reading this right now you are also a parent.  Like me, you probably ask yourself how you could be better preparing your child for life.  Perhaps you wonder what would be the most fundamental skill to teach your child to prepare them for their future. You most probably conclude something along the lines of defending themselves, being confident, or perhaps being resilient.  For me, the most important and life-saving skill is the cognitive skill of ‘Letting Go’.

As a Psychologist I observe that the least resilient people have a tendency to hang onto past hurts, whereas the most resilient individuals are those who have mastered the art of ‘Letting Go’ and focusing their effort and energy on moving forward.  Some would refer to this as ‘Forgiveness’.  Either way, ‘Letting Go’ is a skill that we need to be taught and we need to practice.

I believe that as parents we need to teach our children the art of ‘Letting Go’ as early as possible, and then reinforce the practice of ‘Letting Go’ at every opportunity.

Elephant Poo or Bird Poo

I wanted to find a way to teach my two girls, aged seven and five, a way to start practicing the art of ‘Letting Go’.  My eldest daughter is particularly emotionally sensitive, and is easily upset when others say or do horrible (from her perspective of course) things to her.  I needed to find a way to help her work out what things were significant enough to face up to and work through versus those things that are less important and could be ‘Let Go’.

One day I was in the nearby park with both my daughters sitting under a tree talking and laughing.  All of a sudden I felt this warm drop on my head.  I put my hand up to feel what it was and discovered to my dismay that a bird had dropped a wonderful gift right on top of my head.  When my girls saw what had happened they both screamed with disgust and jumped away from me.  I very quickly realised that I had an opportunity to teach my daughters and important lesson.

I called them over and sat them down again.  I asked them this question: “What would you prefer to have landed on you, bird poo or elephant poo?”  Now I do need to explain that my daughters have been to a game park in South Africa, and have seen fresh elephant dung close up, and as such they have a good idea about what ‘elephant poo’ would feel like if it landed on you.  They both unanimously agreed that ‘bird poo’ would be a far less horrible experience compared to ‘elephant poo’.

I went on to describe in detail, with much humour, what I would look like and smell like if covered in ‘elephant poo’.  They giggled and squealed with delight and we laughed for ages.  I then explained that ‘bird poo’ can be easily brushed off with very little impact.  On the other hand, ‘elephant poo’ is much more serious and would take a long while time to clean up (not to mention a long shower and new clothes).

I then asked my eldest daughter to think about the most recent distressing event, and asked her if she thought that it was ‘bird poo’ or ‘elephant poo’?  She responded that it was just ‘bird poo’, and we agreed that we could just let it go.

This was the beginning of our ‘Elephant Poo or Bird Poo’ analogy. Now, whenever either of the girls encounters a challenge or an issue, or make a mistake, we ask: “Is it bird poo or elephant poo?”  In every instant both girls are very quickly able to decide which one it is, and in 95% of the situations we agree to ‘Let it go’.

They have just learnt the most fundamental and important skill to being resilient – “Let it go”.

What can you do next?

Find an analogy that makes sense to your child.  An analogy that is both humorous but also very tangible and imaginable. Bring the analogy to life the next time your child faces a challenge, or is upset by an event or situation.  Then practice the ‘letting go’ at every opportunity to embed the thinking.  

About the author

Gregory Bayne is one of the Directors of Total Leader and Coach Solutions Australia.  Greg works with senior and executive leaders assisting them to make shifts in the way they work, the way they think and the way they live their lives to become better leaders, colleagues and team members. Greg has a particular focus on assisting leaders create a culture or accountability and high performance. His expertise and knowledge is around building and developing a culture of accountability, leading high performing teams, and getting the most out of people to deliver the highest standards of work. We cultivate sustainable behavioural change in individuals, teams and organisations to drive a performance culture.

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