I was listening to an interesting podcast a couple of nights ago. It was so thought-provoking that I couldn’t fall asleep afterwards. The question discussed was: “Are we raising a nation of wimps?”
By this, the commentators proposed that children are not learning the coping skills which lead to independence. Their childhood is nice and clean and safe, but they are psychologically fragile later on when they leave for college.
Does a sanitized childhood turn a kid into a wimp?
It’s a scientific fact that if you are not exposed to enough “adversity” in the form of germs, your body doesn’t develop immunities. Is this a metaphor for what happens psychologically? The commentators proposed the idea that adversity enables our children able to meet the normal challenges of life as they grow up.
For instance, the crime rate is actually lower than when we were young, but parents these days are hyper-aware of all the potential “bad” things that can happen to their children. And that perhaps we unnecessarily “over-protect” our children because if something “bad” does happen to a child, parents are blamed for it. (If you hadn’t let her go rock climbing, she wouldn’t have broken her arm. Or worse, if you hadn’t allowed him to walk alone to school, he wouldn’t have been abducted.)
Are my own fears holding me back from doing what is best for my child’s development into independence?
Like every parent, I worry. (Will it hurt them, scare them, be too hard, cause them to fail?) Especially so when I became a parent for the first time. I think my oldest Nathan is now far less self-sufficient than his siblings because I was there most every moment, doing it for him, solving the problems, finding the solutions, mediating the play dates.
But my job as a parent is to teach my children to take smart risks. How to decide what is a good risk. What makes a poor risk. Train them about what should be avoided altogether. Risk management – yes. Risk elimination – no.
Of course, the level of risk is dependent on your child’s maturity, temperament, personality, strengths and weaknesses. Risks should be different for every child. You need to know your child in order to train them well.
The nitty-gritty practical.
So how does this idea of allowing adversity in the form of good risks play out? Here are some ideas:
Let your children make mistakes. Have them to fix the mistakes themselves. Even if it takes several attempts to do so. They’ll learn far more than if you do it for them. Even a toddler can clean up something they’ve spilled. Even if it is NOT the way you’d do it. (Are you gritting your teeth yet? I know I am!)
For school-aged children, allow them organize their own time. Do they really need you to decide if they should empty the dishwasher, have a snack or do their homework first? (Of course, you’ve already taught them what the consequences are for not doing chores or homework. Children need to learn to manage their tasks and time, and this is a good way to help them become more independent. Cause seriously, eventually someone who didn’t birth them and love them unconditionally will be their boss!)
Allow your children to play freely unmonitored with other children without the grownups intervening. The kids will work out the problems! (I don’t mean never check on them. But we adults often step into the middle of conflict far too soon.)
Encourage them to try new things. For one child, that may be finally raising her hand in class. For another, learning to dress himself, even if it is a struggle to work those little hands and legs. (And yes, it’s faster and easier if you put the clothes on, and they’ll match and not be on backwards. But don’t lose sight of the goal – independence. Help them get there one step at a time. Just don’t do the steps for them!)
Doing these things actually fosters brain development in the part of the brain where “executive functioning” occurs. This is the portion of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex for you brain anatomy lovers out there) where planning and decision making occur.
Recently, I was on the phone for nearly an hour with the HP customer service department located in some third world country (very annoying, but another blog!) when my 11 year old Nathan kept interrupting and wanting me to cut him some watermelon. I kept shooing him away. Funnily enough, when I got off the phone, I discovered that he had cut his own watermelon. It was a hack job, but that really didn’t matter. He had faced adversity, and solved his own problem. I never have to slice watermelon for him again. But I had trained him to use a knife previously – risk management. Risk elimination – no. He could have cut himself. But he used a steak knife. He knows better than to use a butcher knife.
If you’d like to listen to the podcast, you can find it on BamRadio Network.
-posted by Miss Analiisa, who loves this quote from Andre Malraux: “Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk – and to act.”