A Controversal Parenting Topic

I just read an article in the Guardian titled “Parents will raise happier children ‘if they put them second to their marriage'” Interesting. The title, of course, drew me in.

Then they started to talk about not being that ‘helicopter’ parent. Yup, I can agree with that. A lot of the helicopter parents aren’t allow their children to make mistakes or to grow resilience. Okay, I can go along with this idea.

They said, don’t cram their free hours with tons of stuff, from tutoring to sports to music and beyond. Again, I agree. Like all human beings, we need some down time to process everything that comes at us, we need time to play and we need time to do the not so fun stuff (like learning to clean) in our lives. So far, so good.

The rest of the article goes on to explain why doing the above would be a good thing, not only for your child, but also for you and your partner. Too much focus on your child puts too much pressure on them to be your everything and to be ‘successful’, thus raising their anxiety levels to an unhealthy state.

So, what’s the happy medium? How much time should a child be spending on those extra activities? How much should a parent check on how the child is doing? What happens if your kid is about to fail? That’s something that no one seems to talk about in this article. But I do think it’s out there. What I teach in my parenting classes, Positive Discipline, is that you want to raise you child looking at what qualities and strengths you want them to have at 25. If you think of a list of those traits, then think about what a child needs to get there…this can be your path forward. If I had a child, I would want them to know how to problem solve, to be kind, to be caring and to have a work ethic – all of which comes from some training but also from making mistakes and the learning that follows.

So, how do you parent well and still allow your relationships to thrive?

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Parenting on the Edge

I’m not a parent. I’ll put that out there right now. But I have studied developmental psychology, worked with multiple child and adolescent therapists, gotten further training in working with children and am a parent educator. I’m sure that experience would help me dramatically, but then again, each parent’s experience is unique to their own child and so may not give me any info about children in general.

One thing I have noticed in my readings about child-raising over the years is that parents are getting more and more fearful about everything their child might do that could harm them in any way. I see more parents attempting to wrap their children in ‘cotton wool’, hoping that they will never get hurt or make a mistake. And that, my friends, IS a mistake. Do you remember learning to climb a tree or ride a bike or any other fun thing you did as a child which could have caused you some harm? What did you learn? That you shouldn’t go up too high, or that you might fall and get hurt…but you also learned that you could still dust yourself off, deal with the pain and be okay. You learned. Again, YOU LEARNED! And by not allowing our children to make mistakes, to potentially get hurt in some ways, you are keeping your child from developing that lovely key word floating around right now – resilience. Clearly, we want to try to teach our children to not put themselves in major harm’s way – I don’t want any child to be maimed or to die. But we can’t stop everything. And sometimes we go to far to try to keep them from it all.

Recently, I saw a small article in the Huffington Post, in their Ted Weekends section, on some things that parents should let their kids do that might just hurt them. And it was interesting. I hope you’ll watch the video and comment upon it. I don’t have a child, but I hope I would let them do the 5 Dangerous Things. Honestly, I’m not sure I would…but I like to think that I would let them climb trees and play sports which might make me squirm.

Raising Resilient Adults

It’s easy for parents to think just in the moment.  To want to save their kids from pain and worry. I know my parents did. I know that I certainly would a lot of the time. And sometimes we lose the fact that what we really should be doing is raising our children to be the way we want them to be at age 25. What life skills and characteristics do you want your children to have when they hit 25? From working with parents, they want their kids to be resilient, kind, strong, happy, honest and many other very positive qualities. So, how do you get there?

This article, written by Mickey Goodman, points out that we need to let our children fail and learn when they are young to develop many of these skills. What? Failure can lead to happiness? Amazingly enough, yes. When you fail, you have to look for alternative ways to deal with the problem. Sometimes, you learn that giving up is the best option, because you don’t have a strength in that area. Sometimes, you learn to struggle through without the aim of success but with the aim of just doing. Sometimes, you learn to do something in a new and different way. Each of these allow you to learn about yourself, about what makes you stronger, about what makes you happier. You learn resilience, which gives you power.

As a 16 year old, I had rarely failed at anything. I expected that when I took my driving test that I would pass straight away. I was smart. I had practiced. Those two things should lead to success, right? Nope. I failed it twice. I was embarrassed. But I learned. Sometimes, it takes a lot of work to get to where you want to get, and sometimes you have to fail along the way. My dad watched me fail the second time and heard the driving evaluator tell me that I did fine but that he felt I just needed a bit more practice on the stick before he felt comfortable passing me. He could have stepped in and argued with the guy, telling him that the car shuttered in the best of times and it wasn’t my fault. But he didn’t. He let me fail, again. And while I cried and was unhappy for a while, I learned. Happily, this was not the last time I failed at something. And I am constantly learning about myself and the world. Without those failures, I would most likely have never taken the risks I did – including moving overseas to a city where I knew no one for a job at a school I had never visited.

Here are a few of the suggestions that the article gives to parents for raising strong 25 year olds (and note, they call them painful, because they are):
“We need to let our kids fail at 12 – which is far better than at 42,” he says. “We need to tell them the truth (with grace) that the notion of ‘you can do anything you want’ is not necessarily true.”

Kids need to align their dreams with their gifts. Every girl with a lovely voice won’t sing at the Met; every Little League baseball star won’t play for the major leagues.

• Allow them to get into trouble and accept the consequences. It’s okay to make a “C-.” Next time, they’ll try harder to make an “A”.

• Balance autonomy with responsibility. If your son borrows the car, he also has to re-fill the tank.

• Collaborate with the teacher, but don’t do the work for your child. If he fails a test, let him take the consequences.

“We need to … allow children to fail while they are young in order to succeed when they are adults.”

A nagging child? These three words will help…

I have taught Positive Discipline for Parenting for three years and nagging has been one of the issues that drives a lot of parents bonkers.  This article, based on the words of Lynn Lott, one of the founders of Positive Discipline will help you understand what to do.  The basics of the article on Positive Parenting Solutions are this (but please read it):

Instead of repeating yourself or jumping in to a lecture, avoid child nagging by getting eye to eye and follow the process below:

Step One: Ask, “Have you ever heard of ‘Asked and Answered’?”  (He’ll probably say no.)

Step Two: Ask, “Did you ask me a question about digging a hole?”  (He’ll say yes.)

Step Three: Ask, “Did I answer it?”  (He’ll probably say, “Yes, but, I really ….”)

Step Four: Ask, “Do I look like the kind of mom/dad/teacher who will change her/his mind if you ask me the same thing over and over?” (Chances are Daniel will walk away, maybe with a frustrated grunt, and engage in something else.)

Step Five: If Daniel asks again, simply say, “Asked and Answered.”  (No other words are necessary!) Once this technique has been established, these are the only words you should need to say to address nagging questions.