Would you let your child scale a mountain?

She grabbed the rock above her and pulled herself up. The water rushed cool and quick over our soaked shoes. Steadying herself, my 5 year old reached for the next rock a few feet above her. In the high altitude, we both breathed hard, but her determination pushed us farther as we climbed the waterfall together. Sun in our eyes, family far behind, we kept going until she sat and we both looked down into the valley below.

Letting Special Needs Kids Be Independent

Big Falls, Southern California's highest waterfall.

The whole climb, my heart pounded with the exertion… and with anxiety. What if she falls? Itchy socks throw her into a fit… what if she has a sensory meltdown way up here? How would we get back down?

I wanted to keep her from climbing so high. To protect her from going beyond what I could control so she would be safe. But try as I might, I couldn’t make myself stop our climb up the rocky waterfall.

Because deep down I know safety won’t help her grow.

I’d been thinking about that since the night before. On our last night of vacation at Forest Home, Danny Oertli sang a song he’d written for his son as a baby – a song in which he prays for his son to face hardship in life. Why would a parent pray for something like that?? As a mom, I recoiled from the lyrics. I wanted to run up and toss the singer off the stage!

But as one who leads and mentors my children in life and faith, I agreed wholeheartedly. In my own life, I’ve seen challenges bring growth. And so I climbed, following my little girl into whatever the journey would bring – both good and bad.

The trip up was amazing. As we sat at the top, breathless, muscles tired, we saw our family like ants at the bottom of the valley. Look how far we’d climbed! After a while, we decided to head back down. That’s where the SPD flared. My girl got sand in her shoes, scuffed knees on boulders, had sun in eyes, and too-cold water splashing her as we descended. More than once, I thought for sure we were in for one of her famous sensory meltdowns. But I swallowed my anxiety and assured her as we navigated the rocks and water.

At the bottom, we both flopped on to a large smooth boulder, laying on our backs, looking up the mountain at the waterfall we’d conquered. She’d done it, friends. And we soaked in that victory for a long while, feet dangling in water, sun dancing on leaves above us.

She hadn’t been safe, but she’s now stronger for the independence. It’s a lesson I’ll remember as her mom for a long time.

In what ways do you let your children grow independent despite their special needs?


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