Parents: Support Your Children’s Independence
It used to be, way back in our grandparent’s time, that children spent time working in the family business. In our parent’s time, modern technology freed children from having to work, and parents were able to spend more time simply loving their children. Today’s families are enjoying a higher standard of living. With the increased freedom parents experience because of housekeepers, telecommuting, gardeners, tutors and other resources, our children today are not just loved – they are cherished!
So is cherishing children a bad thing? Yes, if it means that we are inhibiting the development of their independence!
In my practice I see situations where parents refuse to allow their children to fail. All loving parents desperately want their children to have exposure to the best in life. However, by refusing to allow their children to fail, some parents are not permitting children to be children. What some parents do not recognize is that stumbling and making mistakes are vital tasks of childhood.
The following issues are ones all parents should consider:
1. Children need to be able to make mistakes; it is how they learn consequences for their decisions. Childhood is like an 18-year-long laboratory experiment. Few experiments are successful at the first attempt. Failures teach children valuable lessons. They can then incorporate these lessons next time a similar situation is encountered, and then have a better chance of success. Earned lessons will last a lifetime. For example, a child learns that being a poor sport, or even a bully, in a team sport will result in his teammates and coach being angry. This child will undoubtedly be displeased with the consequence – rejection from peers and not being selected to play at future games. Similarly, the child who squanders his allowance impulsively on frivolities will suffer the consequence of his decision when he has no money to join his friends at the theater.
Unfortunately, parents all too often rescue their children from making mistakes. In the above sporting event example, many cherishing parents will call the coach, make excuses, or threaten with a lawsuit. Likewise, some rescuing parents will inhibit their child’s ability to learn the lessons of living within one’s financial means by offering more money.
2. Avoid living vicariously through your children. It is perfectly acceptable for your children to not be perfect. All children can not be on the same academic, social, and physical competitive level with all other children in all situations. We want the best for our children, and selection of a well positioned career can help secure future happiness. So it is understandable that parents are tempted to exert control over their children due to the fierce competition to get into highly desired universities. But at what cost? Hara Estroff Marano, in A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, found that because so many children fail to learn necessasry coping skills for independence in childhood, that many are not prepared for college and are breaking down.
3. Especially since 9/11, with national terrorism concerns and financial crises, parents want to do what they can to help their children achieve happiness in this insecure period of time. Other parents just can’t accept that their children should experience unhappiness, regardless how deserved or momentary. Unfortunately, the end result is the same in all the above experiences – the child’s emotional development is thwarted.
To rescue our children from frustration or unhappiness is to convey the message that we don’t believe they have the capacity to do things on their own. I am confident that our children will not always select the best option, but any selection (so long as it is not life threatening) offers life lessons that will aid them in future selections. Our role, as parents, is to help our children understand the implications so that they can learn what components of their decision making was good, and what they would like to do differently next time.
4. Sometimes it isn’t the over ambitious parent rescuing the child. At times, parents are manipulated by the child. Parents can mistakenly get hooked into rescuing children when their lack of involvement is interpreted as a lack of caring. Single parents, parents of children who have suffered a loss, and working parents with guilt are easy targets. Mark Gregston, in his article, The Over-involved Parent, observes that while neither over or under-involvement is desired, at least the child learns to rely on himself with the under-involved parent.
By expecting the child to independently complete tasks on his own, he learns responsible behavior. Learning to have the confidence to write papers in grade school will give your child the confidence to write papers in college – without having to first email them to you for corrections or rewriting. To rescue your child by encouraging dependence on you is to sabotage personal growth.
Let your children be children. Cherish their mistakes and have confidence that they will learn through the struggles. Trust that they have the skills to reflect within themselves to find the best answers. The mistakes the kids make, followed by the lessons they learn, can provide lifetime skills.
I am a parent. I know first hand how wonderful it feels to be needed by a child. But to create dependencies on us is unfair to them. It is our job to help our kids feel independent, to know how to learn in new situations, and be responsible. We can help them accomplish these goals by not lying or making excuses, but instead raise them to feel empowered. Providing support, love and guidance – rather than suffocation in the form of cherishing – helps our children grow up to be emotionally stable adults, ready and capable of tackling the challenges of life.
I welcome you to share your comments about what has worked – or not worked – to support emotional independence in children?