I was watching a parent out shopping with her little one this weekend. I was watching her child act out, as children can do, as the mom kept offering option after option to remedy the child’s hurt feelings. The child’s tone was escalating and the parent’s frustration was growing. It was clear to see that the child was in charge of the interaction, and the image has stayed with me.
I remember as a new parent reading that you can’t spoil a baby – that I should respond to every cry and comfort my son during that first year of life. That was my first experience in being a parent and it paved the way from there. That was my job – to soothe every uncomfortable feeling he had (and anticipate them too!) Then toddlerhood hits and, it is time to begin setting some limits on behavior. Like when your little one reaches up to push the buttons on the television and watches you for your reaction with that twinkle in his eye, it’s time for limits! Parents sometimes miss those cues and continue on the path of soothing every cry or uncomfortable feeling for their child. I sure did, I spent a lot of time doing tasks for him that he was completely able to take on. I knew it one day, when he was 9 and playing soccer that couldn’t tie his cleats. He had never learned to tie his shoes. I had always bought Velcro shoes, because it was easier for me. How had my child arrived at age 9, not knowing how to tie shoes? Um, his mother hadn’t done her job – that was a big wakeup call!
When this parenting mindset happens, one very important task of childhood is being compromised – children fail to learn self-sufficiency and resiliency. Children should have the experience of figuring out challenging tasks – like letting them try to get dressed, or put on their own shoes. Children need to try AND FAIL at times. Children should experience feelings like frustration, disappointment, sadness and learn how to deal with them age appropriately. We see fully grown adults who did not learn this all the time, Madelyn Swift calls it “learning frustration tolerance” – at airports when the flight is cancelled, on the freeway when it’s backed up unexpectedly, to the server who spills a beverage. It is our charge as parents to teacher your children these important life lessons, while they still have the love and support of their parents to help them learn and grow with each stage.
We work so hard to strike a balance of being the active, hands-on parent and letting our children grow independently. When a parent swoops in at every turn, it can tell a child that they are incapable and they learn a certain helplessness when they walk through the world. Letting your child face the disappointment of forgetting their show-and-tell item rather than running back home for it, or taking the extra time for them to pack up their own backpack instead of doing for them — are HUGE developmental tasks for your child. I urge you to look for opportunities to empower your child, finding those times that you can let them struggle just a bit, as they learn to master a new task. When they reach their goal, and your child’s face lights up with pride of their accomplishment, you will know that you did a GREAT job as a parent that day.