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Teaching Kids to Listen to Their Guts Means We Have to Listen to Ours

Have you ever had the feeling you’re not where you should be, and it’s time to change direction?

Your stomach tightens, you feel uncomfortable and your instinct kicks in, but it doesn’t give you precise, easy answers.

All you know is where you are is causing friction in your soul.

This inner voice is something I whole-heartedly believe in, but it’s a bit of a murky concept to teach to my children. It sounds hokey if I flippantly say, “Listen to your gut!” It’s a lesson I’ve witnessed lands harder when they actually experience it for themselves.

But it’s still a tricky lesson to navigate.

I mean, I am telling them to listen to their guts and be true to who they are, and to back away if something doesn’t feel right. How do we balance this advice with the equally well-intentioned guidance to have perseverance and grit to see hard things through? To stick with it and be victorious?

Like nearly everything in life, there is no right or wrong answer, but I find myself wanting to put more weight on the side of my brain that reminds me everyone--even children--are armed with an inner voice that is their compass, and tuning into that is even more important than staying with something that feels wrong, which is different from something that feels only difficult.

My son is 10 years old, and he begged me for two years to play tackle football.

I refused.

I know this child.

This child is not aggressive or competitive. He likes to cook and care for animals, so I had no idea where this desire to play tackle football was coming from.

After his asking one too many times, I finally agreed. I realized the worst thing that could happen would be he would dislike it, and he would at least know after doing it.

At first he really liked it.

And then the tackling drills began.

He cowered and flinched and was taken to the ground.

Over. And over. And over.

The kids who had been playing football for years took this as a challenge to initiate my son, so they came after him more. The coaches yelled at the team that if anyone flinches or does not face a tackle, they’ll do it again until they can take it.

I get it. They were trying to get the boys to not be afraid because being afraid would be the thing that would cause even more injuries.

But there was a lot of emphasis on manhood and not “playing like girls” and the practices started to feel like something I had not anticipated or appreciated. I sat back and let my son figure out if this felt right to him. (What I really wanted to do was storm the field and show them just how scrappy and strong a girl can be.)