Finding ‘Nemo’

Have you seen the movie? There are a lot of parenting situations in it that we can relate to. The main one that I see is with Marlin and Nemo. Nemo has a short fin and his dad is very protective of him, which is natural. Nemo wants to show his dad what he can do in spite of his short fin, but this is a scary situation for Marlin (the dad), because he does not know how to protect Nemo.

Nemo is reacting in an age-appropriate way: He wants to show his dad what he can do; Dad won’t let him, and then Nemo does it anyway. Sound familiar? This pattern happens a lot and at different ages and stages with parents and kids. As the kids get older, we may become more comfortable with letting go, but it will still be hard.

The question is this: How do we allow our children to do more things on their own when our own fears get in the way?

At a young age, kids begin to pull away and search for independence, and as parents, we encourage that, support them, and cheer them on. When they stumble, we help pick them up and tell them to try again. When they succeed, we feel great! When they “fail,” we get discouraged and/or keep cheering them on. The latter is a healthier response: to keep cheering for and encouraging them and to allow kids to keep striving.

The challenge is when they are hurt or held back by a physical or mental challenge that as parents we want to protect them from. We may also want to protect them because of our own fears or beliefs that someone is going to hurt them even more. When a child is showing the desire to try again or to show you that he can do something, that is when it can be okay to allow it.

With Nemo, he wanted to show his father he could swim far (out to the boat) and come back. Yes, he was being oppositional and was not listening or following directions, but that is not really the point.

Marlin was afraid that Nemo would not be able to swim to the boat, and from my perspective, Marlin was afraid that he would have to go get Nemo, and Marlin was more afraid of that than anything else. So here is something to think about: we need to be aware of where our fears come from as parents. Do our fears arise from our own insecurities or doubts that we will not be able to swim to the boat? Or maybe the fear is that when our child does well, he will need us less.

Wherever Marlin’s fears were coming from, Nemo did what he believed he could do. Yes, he got caught, and his dad searched and found him; and then Nemo was able to show Dad that in spite of his short fin, he was still able to do great things. Maybe if Marlin had allowed Nemo to show him earlier, then the situation would not have had to go that far, but then the movie would not have been made.

It took Dori to point out to Marlin that maybe it was time for him to let go. Yes, they were in the whale, but Marlin got the message: Allow Nemo to show what he can do, even if Marlin has some fears.

But let’s look again at the question posed earlier: When is it okay to allow your child to have more freedom? How can parents manage their fears when a child is insisting on what he can do?

  1. Identify your fears. Be aware of them. When we look at our fears, we can do something about them. Are the fears more about your child or that you may not be able to protect him from getting hurt? You are not always going to be able to protect your child; he may get hurt, but he probably will also be okay.
  2. Focus on what your child is able to do. Look at where improvements have been made, and see how you can help encourage him. Look at how you can support him to try something new or a little more challenging.
  3. Is your child asking to try something new? Is he wanting to try more? If he is, then believe in him, and try to understand that he believes he is able to try it. You can share with him your thoughts and concerns. He may disagree and still want to try, and if so, then trust him. Yes, he may not fully succeed, and that’s okay. He will learn more about himself and become more confident in himself. When he does succeed, it will feel wonderful and he will be very proud to show you.
  4. If you have conveyed your thoughts/fears to your child and he’s still insistent that he can do whatever it is, then support him. Encourage him and be there for him.
  5. If he “fails”, do NOT say, “I TOLD YOU SO” because that would be your fears talking. Encourage him to try again; failure means not trying at all.

Back to Marlin and Nemo: Marlin learned that Nemo was able to do a lot of things, even with a short fin. He succeeded, and Marlin also succeeded: He learned that letting go is not only scary at times but also very rewarding. Nemo told him that he loved him and was thankful, and the letting go helped their relationship become more fun. Marlin also became better at telling jokes!

One last thought: When Marlin allowed Nemo to show what he could do, I think Marlin found his own “Nemo,” which I guess opens the door for another article on this topic: Finding “Nemo” Part II.

Related articles:
Increasing Children’s Self-Esteem
Importance of Coping Skills, Part 2: Building Resilience
When Not to Say “No” to Your Child

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kelly Sanders, MFT, Child & Adolescent Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • siobhan

    April 27th, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    This is one of my favorite movies of all time! My daughter used to waych it over and over again when she was small, and it really taught me so many good lessons about being a good parent and knowing what battle to choose and when it was wiser to let go. She is a teenager now, and I still have my moments when I don’t want to let her spread he wings and fly. She will always be my baby. But I have had to accept that the only way for her to find out who she is and what she loves is for me to sometimes take a few steps back and let her try some things out on her own. That means knowing that there will be times that she will succeed and times when she will fail, but I will always be there to support her no matter the outcome.

  • Marquis

    April 27th, 2012 at 4:02 PM

    What I like the most about Finding Nemo is that both Nemo and marlin learn some very valuable lessons about being a parent and being a child. There is something for all ages, and that is an achievement that very few movies are able to accomplish.


    April 27th, 2012 at 9:33 PM

    My parents were always over protective of me.I hated that and never understood why they did that.Well I do now as a parent myself.Whatever it was- fear,over protection,whatever but ultimately it was their love for me that did that and although it did frustrate me when I was younger,I think they did a good job.

    I’m not advocating over protection or things like that but this thought could well help a teen understand why his parents do what they do.And when there is understanding there is no rebellious behavior and it’s ultimate result-Getting into trouble with parents or worse yet with the law.

  • Stephanie

    April 28th, 2012 at 6:08 AM

    This movie rings true in so many ways. . . a lot of times being a parent is so scary because we have a pretty easy time remembering the things that we did when growing up and the mistakes that we made ourselves.

    What we need to keep in mind is that our kids are not us. They are going to like their own things and want to make their own decisions.

    It is all about finding that fine line between letting them try something new without allowing them to get too hurt along the way. I have actually come to the conclusion that it is ok to let them fall every now and then, you just have to be able to step in as a parent when the time is right.

    Being a good parent is all about finding those perfect times for life lessons, and Finding Nemo sums much of that up in a way that parents can really relate to.

  • zachary smith

    April 29th, 2012 at 4:35 AM

    As the parent of a child who is in a wheelchair I can see how Marlin always wants to protect Nemo because of his physical disability. But I feel sometimes like the more I try to step in and take up for him the more he wants to push me away and show me that these are things that he can do for himself. I don’t want to be the one who has to tell hime that there are going to be things in life that he won’t be able to do, so I have to start doing a better job at telling him you can do anything and be anything, it’s just that the path that you will have to take to get there may be a little different than the one that naother will have to take. But I never want to discourage him or cause him to accomplish less than what he is capable of.

  • diana

    April 29th, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    it’s never easy to let go of your kids for fear of them being hurt,be it physically or cannot understand this.parents need to be mature about such things and ensure they have a connection with their children and that such incidents wherein each of them wants different things are resolved in a nice friendly manner.

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