Should we protect our kids from all harm? If we do, we are not doing them any favors. A child can try to shelter a baby bird in hand, but if they squeeze too hard they will kill it. The motivation is pure- that of protection, but the result is the opposite.
I am a mom. My sons are my heart. Of course I want to shield them and pave an easy road. Our instincts can be counterproductive to producing happy, well-adjusted and independent adults.
Nobody likes a bully. Confrontations with aggressive folk are painful. When someone makes our kindergartener feel bad, we wish we could stomp the offender senseless. We do what we can, complaining to adults, scheduling conferences, keeping our child as far away from the tyrant as possible. These are not necessarily wrong actions but they are not the most important response.
Talk with your child. Sympathize and explain that these are situations we all encounter, no matter how old we are. Explore why the situation happened and suggest some coping strategies. Think it through together. What do you think the bully was trying to accomplish? How could you react next time? What effect does this incident have on your child’s feelings toward and relationship with the offender? Share your own experiences. Support and love, listen and strengthen. Keep the incident in perspective. This can be an important opportunity for learning.
Our anger while certainly justified can aggravate an already uncomfortable situation. More helpful is the confidence we can instill by believing our child has the strength and capability to handle the situations they encounter. “Sticks and stones may break your bones” is an outdated adage. Words certainly do hurt. Yet the message behind the old verse of not giving someone’s words too much importance is still relevant. By not adding our own fuel to the fire, by acknowledging a situation to be irritating rather than life-threatening, we diffuse much of the impact. You are sending a message that the incident does not need to rock a child’s inner confidence. The actions of the bully only reflect on the aggressors nature.
As your children grow, learn to trust them. Trust that the lessons you have imparted fell into fertile soil . If they do not have an opportunity to exercise their moral compasses then they have little opportunity to develop their own code of ethics. Will they make mistakes and exercise poor judgement? Sometimes. Those too are learning opportunities. This is how we learn to accept responsibility for our failures, and how to improve in our decision making. If you lock your child in their room throughout all of high school do not be surprised when they lack appropriate skills to successfully cope with the challenges of college.
Our children need to fail. They need to learn what their strengths and weaknesses are. Yes, love them with all of your being. Never ever pretend to yourself or to your child that either of you is perfect. We all have strengths and talents and we all have weaknesses. Being able to honestly assess which are which is a tremendous source of inner strength.
I am not suggesting that total freedom is the answer. Parental limits are an important part of your child’s security. If your children exceed those boundaries punishment is perfectly acceptable. Yet try to resist the impulse to jump in and automatically fix a problem they have created. If your child did not do homework, they should fail the class and attend summer school. Make it clear that they are responsible for that choice and the consequences that follow. Don’t call the school, begging and bartering on their behalf. Make your child understand where their own power lies and how their choices will impact their life.
Your child may not like vacuuming or doing dishes, but not everything in life is fun. He wants expensive electronic equipment, but the cost of such items are prohibitive. It is not only okay but realistic for your child to understand these concepts. He needs to value work, sacrifice and limitation. By making things too easy you are giving him an unrealistic view of adult life, a life which may no longer include the shelter of a living parent. Our kids cannot become independent productive citizens if not allowed to grow through experiencing personal hardship.
Again, talk with your children. Do not speak at them or lecture nonstop. Help them to express their struggles aloud. It is a gift to be able to share our doubts and fears. Listen, as free of judgement as you are able, encouraging your kids to reason through their circumstance, reaching their own logical conclusion. Help them learn how to think. Help them apply their reason to emotional circumstances. Do not tell your child how to feel. Give advice when asked for but allow them to interpret their own positions. They might not agree with you, and that is okay. Try to understand their perspective and keep your conversation meaningful. Do not lie or fall back into standard platitudes. Be real. Honest and open conversation is the single most effective tool in the parental toolbox. Discussion will not resolve every issue. It will open paths of understanding. Keeping open dialogue is essential.
Your kids will get themselves into trouble. They will encounter obstacles. We wish we could wrap them in bubble wrap that all the sharp edges of life could be blunted. It is tough to watch our offspring flounder or struggle. It can be painful. Stay the course. Support where you can but allow the struggle. Love them unconditionally. Believe in their strength. Have faith they are capable of finding their way. Give them the opportunity to cope. Rejoice in their accomplishments, genuine progress they make through their own struggles and perseverance.
It is not easy to raise a confident adult. Allowing our birds the freedom to fly is an integral part of the process. Throw that bubble wrap into the trash. You and your child are tougher than you think.