Earlier this month Natal HQ we went camping in the Lake District. It was our opportunity to have some quality time as a family with no phones or emails. however, as it usually is, the divide between work and play was an slim one!
One day of our holiday our older two children (aged 6 & 7) went on Tree Top Junior at Go Ape. I was expecting it to be a lot tamer that it actually was – it was HIGH and in some parts even the adults accompanying some of the children were clearly finding it physically and mentally challenging.
My two completed the first level of the course, then progressed into the higher, longer and trickier second part. I was on the ground watching and suddenly mummy radar kicked in and I knew there was a problem – I couldn’t see her face or hear her, but I know my daughter’s posture well enough to know she was suddenly distressed.
A Go Ape worker (I don’t know his name so will call him ‘Tom’ for ease of the story) quickly clipped into the course and climbed his way over to her. Having seen incidents like this in other settings, I was expecting, as I had often witnessed in those, that he would just remove her from the course.
However, ‘Tom’ 100% focused on my daughter and everything and everyone else had to wait. He asked her name and gave her a little time to calm down enough to be able to talk to him.
When she was calmer, he started talking to her about what she was finding challenging. He then reassured her about her safety, demonstrating how the harnesses really were secure and showed her a couple of ways of managing the part of the course she was stuck on. There were no handrails for balance, so being so high in the trees really meant you had to put your faith in yourself and harness.
When my daughter felt reassured and ready to try again, he then set off over the section of the course she had come to a standstill on and encouraged her to follow him. He didn’t touch her, there was no holding her hand to help her cross the various sections, just verbal encouragement and moral support through each part. He broke it down into one manageable segment at a time and gave her focal points.
In fact, they then cleared the remainder of the course so quick, the queue which had formed was left far behind them!
I was so impressed at how empowering ‘Tom’ was. He allowed and enabled my daughter to complete the obstacles for herself. At no point did he do it for her. This meant with every step she took her confidence and esteem grew. Crucially, he had operated from the point of view that she had gotten on the course because she wanted to do it, and removing her from the course wasn’t going to help her achieve her goal. She had hit a hurdle and he helped her overcome that, rather than disempowering her by taking her off the course and sending her the message she couldn’t do it.
As I watched the skill with how ‘Tom’ managed this situation I did think how wonderful it would be if we had more empowerers like him. There is a natural human impulse to want to ‘rescue’ others – part of the ‘fix it reflex’ which we discuss in our DaddyNatal and Natal Birth Workshops. However, despite the best of intentions, this can be so very disempowering and being able to recognise this impulse and choosing how to respond when we feel it, in order to support others to realise their goals (and not ours), is so critical to anyone in the birthing/parenting environment – be it a professional or partner. In fact, it is so important, I wonder why in general it still isn’t talked about more and why we don’t support people to learn how to develop this skill to their best ability.
The next day ‘Tom’ wasn’t working on the course. Instead the ‘trouble shooter’ was someone with quite a different approach. Despite the course being much quieter than the day before, I watched as he removed several children when they got scared, rather than support them over their individual hurdles. Although done with good intentions, I reflected on what subconscious message/feelings this might create compared to those of his colleage. Empowering others is a real skill which requires practice and takes a good level of self awareness, it certainly isn’t instinctive for everyone.
My daughter went back on the course that next day too. She did the high section of the course twice, with no adult support. In that one moment the day before, ‘Tom’s’ empowering practice had really made a difference. She had learnt to overcome a hurdle and now held a greater belief in her own abilities – I felt very proud at her strength of character and very inspired by the empowering practice demonstrated by ‘Tom’.
Thank you to ‘Tom’ at Go Ape Grizedale for giving my daughter this empowering experience and enabling her to have a fantastic time which she still hasn’t stopped talking about! And if you ever fancy a change of career, you have some amazing skills which fit in so well with our Natal Family ethos! 😉
Steph is co-founder of antenatal & parenting programmes BabyNatal, MummyNatal and DaddyNatal, alongside her husband Dean.