Anyone who is raising children has my utmost respect
“Having kids — the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings — is the biggest job anyone can embark on.” – Maria Shriver.
Just a heads-up to start
I am not a parent. This article isn’t meant as a dig at parents – I opted out of having children, so I don’t have any right to criticise people for a job I wasn’t prepared to take on. I have worked with clients who are parents struggling with their children’s behaviour and with clients who are adult children, struggling in life. So I’m writing this article based on my experiences as an objective observer. These are what I observe to be 5 mistakes parents make that diminish resilience in both young and adult children.
Mistake #1 – Overprotection
It’s human nature to want to protect those we love. I get that. We’d prefer they didn’t have to experience some of the pain and hurt that we’ve experienced. But in the process of protection we might forget the valuable lessons we’ve learnt from our negative experiences; experiences which have given us the strength of character and made us who we are right now. Parents don’t mind their children climbing trees but they don’t want them to fall and break an arm. So they refuse to let them climb trees. (Please replace ‘climb trees’ with whatever other activity represents danger.)
Unfortunately (or fortunately) children learn through trial and error. In other words, they need to make mistakes in order to learn. Wrapping children in metaphorical cotton wool produces fearful teenagers and adults who lack resilience and strength of character.
Mistake #2 – Short-term thinking
What I mean by that, is that parents sometimes forget that their role is to train children to be fully functioning adults and citizens. I’ll often ask; How would you like your child to be when he’s 18 or 21? Replies vary – but not by much. Most parents will give a list of qualities such as; kind, compassionate, resilient, responsible, independent, loving, strong, confident etc. Then I ask, ‘What are you doing now, to ensure your child turns out the way you’ve described?’ For too many, it’s the first time they’ve thought about an answer.
Many parents will tell me that they want their children to have an ‘easier’ childhood than they, themselves had. Their children don’t do any chores around the house or garden. This is very short-term thinking. Long term they’re turning out children who will struggle with the daily necessities of taking care of themselves and their environment. Children who can’t cook, wash dishes, make beds, vacuum or clean. Unless these kids end up marrying a wealthy tycoon and paying servants to do everything, you can imagine the negative impact this will have when they meet someone and start living together in a relationship, or even move into a shared flat. The antidote is simple; give children responsibilities and chores to do!
Mistake #3 – Making decisions for their children
Parents’ protection of their children may extend to making decisions for them. Of course, babies, apart from refusing or accepting food and drink aren’t really capable of making decisions. But it is important to allow small children to begin making their own small decisions. And decision-making becomes more important as children get older. Being able to make thoughtful, timely decisions, is a key factor for a successful life and career, so it’s a good idea to let them get some practice when young.
This is a scary concept for many parents
Parents, of course, can offer advice, they can spell out what the possible consequences of a decision might be. They can even tell their children about their own fears or relate their experiences in similar situations. The decision should be left to the child. And if the child makes a decision that doesn’t work out well, the parent can comfort the child, they can ask what they think went wrong and gently make sure they have learnt from the decision. They should not rebuke them for making the ‘wrong’ decision.
Mistake #4 – Not practising what they preach
Parents often forget that children learn far more from how they see and hear their parents behaving than from what the parents intentionally try to teach. This is pretty simple really; if you want your children to be honest — be honest yourself. If you want them to be kind, show kindness. If you want them to be independent, show independence and give them the opportunity to be independent. The way you relate to their other parent is programming them for how to behave when they are in a relationship and/or become parents. Do you nag and bicker with each other? Or are you supportive and caring?
Mistake #5 – Being their child’s best friend
Parents have to do things for the good of their child and/or the family, that their child won’t like. Sometimes the child will hate their parents and wish they’d been adopted out! Deal with it! It’s called being an adult. If you try to be your child’s best friend, you’ll become too easy going and send mixed messages to your child about what’s appropriate and what’s not. You won’t do what a good parent would do because you’ll worry about losing their ‘friendship’ and approval. The child, and what the child wants, will begin to control how you behave. The child becomes the ‘parent’. To resolve this, it’s important to take back the reigns and the responsibility and start parenting rather than ‘friending’.
I thought long and hard about publishing this post because I believe parents often get a raw deal. I decided that if this helps even one parent or one child it will have been worth it. Correcting these 5 simple mistakes, though not necessarily easy, will assist your children to become more resilient, rounded individuals – both as children and adults.