“Our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job” -Julie Lythcott-Haims former dean of freshmen at Stanford University stated in a recent article in the Washington Post, “We need to know that our children have the wherewithal to get up in the morning and take care of themselves.”
“We want so badly to help them by shepherding them from milestone to milestone and by shielding them from failure and pain. But over helping causes harm,” she writes. “It can leave young adults without the strengths of skill, will and character that are needed to know themselves and to craft a life.” says Lythcott-Haims
“Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, said “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire.” Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?
Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA, says the answer may be yes. Based on what he sees in his practice, Bohn believes many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.
Consider a toddler who’s running in the park and trips on a rock, Bohn says. Some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying. But, Bohn explains, this actually prevents her from feeling secure—not just on the playground, but in life. If you don’t let her experience that momentary confusion, give her the space to figure out what just happened (Oh, I tripped), and then briefly let her grapple with the frustration of having fallen and perhaps even try to pick herself up, she has no idea what discomfort feels like, and will have no framework for how to recover when she feels discomfort later in life. These toddlers become the college kids who text their parents with an SOS if the slightest thing goes wrong, instead of attempting to figure out how to deal with it themselves. If, on the other hand, the child trips on the rock, and the parents let her try to reorient for a second before going over to comfort her, the child learns: That was scary for a second, but I’m okay now. If something unpleasant happens, I can get through it. In many cases, Bohn says, the child recovers fine on her own.
It is not easy to see your child hurting. However, what is more important than your temporary discomfort is the social and emotional lessons that the child learns. When a 2 year old is crying over a toy being taken away from him by another child, what he gains by being allowed to handle it himself is the ability to self-soothe and learn how to interact with others through difficulty.
This social lesson is what the child needs as a foundation to build all the other lessons on as they age. If a two year old doesn’t know how to handle a 2 year old’s problems, they do not learn how to solve 5 year old’s problems, 10 year old’s problems and so on.
What studies are overwhelmingly showing is that what children have learned by over-parenting or helicopter parenting, is that they are INCAPABLE of handling things on their own, so they don’t even try. When parents rush in to rescue and solve all of their child’s problems, it reinforces the child’s feelings that they are not as smart or brave as their parents. When more complicated matters arise in their lives, they are totally unprepared. This leads to feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem.
Interesting how, in creating perfect little stress free environments for our children so that they can “thrive” and “succeed” and by giving every child a trophy so that their sensitive self-esteem is not hurt; in reality we are doing the exact opposite.
“College students are seeking counseling at an unprecedented rate because they are having ’emotional crises’ over everyday life.” Peter Gray, a Boston College Professor has claimed.
Dr. Gray was invited to a major university to talk about student resilience and found counseling services had conducted twice as many appointments in recent years because of increasing ‘neediness’. He added that faculty members are now afraid to give low grades because of ’emotional fragility’. They also feel like they have to do more ‘hand-holding’ and avoid challenging their students as a result, he claims.
Parents love their children, and do what they think is best for their children. We do not believe that people who over-parent even realize that they are doing harm to their children. So how do you know if you are a helicopter parent? Lythcott-Haims offers 3 quick tips.
1. Check your language. “If you say ‘we’ when you mean your son or your daughter – as in, ‘We’re on the travel soccer team’ – it’s a hint to yourself that you are intertwined in a way that is unhealthy,”
2. Examine your interactions with adults in your child’s life. “If you’re arguing with teachers and principals and coaches and umpires all the time, it’s a sign you’re a little too invested,” she said. “When we’re doing all the arguing, we are not teaching our kids to advocate for themselves.”
3. Stop doing your child’s homework – enough said.
Lythcott-Haims adds that in order to aid in your child becoming self sufficient you need to teach them the skills that they will need in real life and give them enough leash to practice those skills on their own. She also suggests mandating chores for the children within the home, “Chores build a sense of accountability. They build life-skills and a work ethic.”
If we can adopt a forward thinking mentality, this problem may be all but solved in a few years. If we can think about how we are reacting to our children in these terms, “What will be the best for my child in the long-term, not just pacify their immediate emotions for now?”