Does My Child Really Need to Stay Within The Lines?

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Author Bio: Erika Petrelli, Senior Vice President of Leadership Development for The Leadership Program. She is the writer of  the popular blog series, Wings and Whimsy.

Within The Lines

I am the world’s worst parker.

Even if I was the sole car in a cavernous parking lot, I would still park crooked, or too close to the lines. I simply can’t park straight and centered within the lines of a parking spot. Can’t do it.

I believe this is a reflection of my genius.

Clearly, I cannot be confined by lines. I think I must still intuitively know what very young children know – lines are meant to be “suggestions,” mere guides on what choices you might make with your crayon… or your minivan.

As schoolchildren we learn to color within the lines. We work very hard to do this – I remember when my daughter was four and became so dogged in her determination to color within the lines that she held my husband hostage for nearly an hour at an arts and crafts table.

This is a good thing; it helps the development of fine motor skills, it helps us learn how to draw specific shapes and figures. Many have argued that an artist needs a canvas on which to paint – a natural boundary – within the limits of the canvas an artist can be free to create, the “lines” create freedom.

As adults we are obsessed with “staying within the lines” too, but not just in coloring books (though watch any parent coloring next to their child and you will see some pretty meticulous don’t-interrupt-my-staying-within-the-lines-crayon-work). No, our lines are different. They are lines that establish how we should dress, how we should act, what kind of job we should seek, what kind of dwelling we should establish, what our opinions are.

All this to say, I think sometimes we take the whole “stay within the lines” concept a bit too far and, in doing so, squelch our children’s natural instincts to explore, discover, create.

So how do we provide both guidelines and possibilities for our children?

I think much of the secret lies simply in letting go.

If we let go of the need to keep our living room looking perfectly neat, then maybe we end up allowing space for our children to create a Fort to End-All-Forts, a space where they imagine themselves fighting dragons and conquering the world.

If we let go of the idea that dinner has to be a perfectly balanced meal, then maybe we pave the way for our children to cook us their famous Banana-Cheerio-Bread-Cheese soufflé.

If we let go of the idea that every essay needs to be a four paragraph verbal composition, then maybe we will be surprised by the power of storytelling that lies within an art collage or a video.

Lines are important. There is value to them and there is a time and a place for them.  But they aren’t the only options. We can make our own lines, and those can be valuable too (Also, even when you make your own lines, don’t worry too much about how perfectly you stay within them – sometimes a little bit crooked is a lot beautiful.)

How can you create the space for your children to make their own lines?

 

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