How We Clip Our Children’s Wings Without Even Realizing

family silhouette in houseThere has been a major shift in attitudes toward parenting in the last decades and it’s been a positive shift away from discipline and obedience to treating kids as the individuals they are and respecting their needs and wishes. Yet, not everything has been all good; for many parents the pendulum has come full swing to the other extreme of letting their kids get whatever they want whenever they want it and do whatever they want whenever they want.  In doing this, those well-meaning parents not infrequently get the opposite of what they hoped for. Many of us are also overprotective, which is only natural, but we believe that there was no ‘over’ before protective. Here are some things to consider if you think you could do an even better job as a parent, bringing up a free-thinking, confident and healthy person.

One of the definitive authorities on the subject of parenting, Danish family therapist and author Jesper Juul, advises parents in his seminal work “Your Competent Child” to never forget that they are the responsible ones, if only because they are the adults and their reasoning and critical faculties are better developed. Although every child is competent in conveying what he or she needs, likes, dislikes, etc., parents should not burden them with responsibilities they can’t cope with. To illustrate with the crudest example, your 3-year-old may want to skip along in the middle of the street, because he is unaware of the danger. Liberal as you may be, letting him have his way on this particular occasion is, without question, not a good idea. And things don’t just come to basic safety — what if your daughter wants to stuff herself with ten pancakes because they are so delicious? Again, it won’t be too good to let her have her way. In short, don’t forget you are responsible for the health and wellbeing of your kid, both physical and mental. Since most of us now in our 30s were raised with traditional models of parenting, we try to compensate by giving and giving to our own children, forgetting to let them give to us, Juul reminds us. Pour as much love as you have over your child but let him or her love you, too, and be aware that the expression of their love does not always equal gratitude for all that you’re doing for them (and, let’s say it, buying for them). See your child, not your ambitions for him or her and enjoy your time together without feeling obliged to satisfy ever fleeting whim.

In terms of overprotectiveness, leadership expert Dr. Tim Elmore identifies, among others, two crippling tendencies in parents today. One is that we don’t let our kids take enough risks. It may sound as a contradiction to what we said earlier, but it’s not, because here we’re talking about measured, manageable risk. Small children fall often and, Elmore says, they should be allowed to do so, within reason, to avoid the danger of them growing up to be overly arrogant.  Instead of rushing to catch your toddler every time she is on the verge of tumbling down, just remove the most dangerous things she can hit when she falls and then let her fall. Falling is normal, it’s a part of life, and so is emotional pain. The best parents can do for their kids is teach them how to fall with the minimum damage and how to deal with emotional pain. Draw on your own experience, share your mistakes and let your kids learn from them. Related to this is parents’ urge to rush in and save their kid from whatever problem he or she is having. That’s wrong, says Elmore; if a child is rescued from a troublesome situation before he’s even had the time to realize it’s troublesome, he will learn to always rely on someone else to take care of everything and will grow up with lacking the ability to solve problems and take responsibility for what life has to offer him, which is, after all, what life is all about.

So, step back a bit, clench your teeth and let your son get a skinned knee now and then, it’ll heal; let your daughter cope with not being invited to a birthday party, offering her your support but not blaming the world for not seeing her the way you see her. In short, let your children grow and don’t spare them all the pains that are such a critical part of that process.