On my pre-schooler’s first day of class, an assignment was sent home requesting they create a show-and-tell board. They wanted a description of who he was, how many siblings he had, pictures of the family and fun activities enjoyed during summer break. My son couldn’t write – he was 4. Nor did he know what the word “description” meant. He couldn’t count to 20 and they wanted him to do what? So I had pictures developed, bought poster board, and let him do whatever he wanted with his little marker and glue. It looked just like you would have imagined. It was pitiful, funny and messy.
You should have seen the look of accomplishment on his face, beaming with pride as he carried his over-sized masterpiece into the classroom. You should have seen the look on my face as I walked into the classroom and saw the Mona Lisas of artwork: stenciled letters, 3D art images, created by very talented parents. It looked as if PR firms had been hired to design some of the projects. At first, I was embarrassed. Had I made a mistake? Was it my assignment or his?
As parents, we obviously want the best for our children. If I could roll mine in bubble wrap to keep them from getting hurt, I would. But it’s to their detriment when we hover over our kids, intervening in their squabbles with friends, doing their work for them, or negotiating their grades at school. We’ve become an advocate in places we don’t belong. In short, we’ve crossed the line. It’s OK to give them advice, guide their hearts, help them behind the scenes, but not fight their fights or navigate their future to the point it becomes a disservice to everyone involved.
In the CNN.com article How to Ground a ‘Helicopter Parent’, Dr. Nancy Weisman, a licensed clinical psychologist, notes that it’s important for kids to understand that they are not going to be rescued. Otherwise, they may feel a sense of entitlement. In dealing with powerful people, Dr. Ken Haller from the St. Louis University School of Medicine suggests that as parents, if we bully to get our way, it sends a message to our children, that we need to be “controversial and adversarial.” He suggests teaching them the “art of negotiation” as a more valuable tool.
It’s important to be their advocate when they’re younger, their guide, their counselor in their teen years, but don’t hover over them, trying to make sure they don’t slip and fall. In failure, there are lessons to be learned.. There is value in a skinned up knee.
Remember when you were a kid, running through the house, perhaps you slipped and wiped out, badly? It looked painful to everyone else, yet you jumped right back up and kept going. You had youth on your side. Now, when you take a fall, it’s not as easy to jump back up. Failing at the age of 10, 16 or 22 is way easier than failing at 43 when there’s much more at stake: kids, marriage, jobs, mortgages.
If they fail an assignment or miss class, make them meet with the teacher instead of you. It’s called accountability. If your teen didn’t complete an assignment, let them deal with the consequences. The best lessons-learned are taught in the “School of Life.” Important information can be gleaned from failure. Some say: Failure is not an option. I say: It’s as amazing learning tool. You don’t need an early childhood education degree to know that failure can be very beneficial to young children as well. If you fail, collect data from what went wrong. Take those mistakes and turn them into success. Talk to anyone who owns a profitable company, and they will tell you, more character was built during failure than in victories.
Unfortunately the new rules of today apply:
* Don’t mark student’s answers wrong with red ink, it hurts their emotional psyche.
* Parents are meeting with employers to negotiate their children’s salaries.
* No swings or dodgeball games, kids may get injured.
* Everyone gets a trophy for participating. It’s important that every child feels special.
* Tell your kids they are great at everything. The truth will hurt their feelings.
Don’t micro manage your kids, always trying to fix, strategize, advocate and mediate their life path. Let them learn from their mistakes. It gives them confidence that they can solve their own problems.
The question remains, how do you give your children the resources they need to become responsible citizens? Give them responsibility. Make them accountable for their consequences, instead of trying to take the bullet for everything that goes wrong. Give them chores at an early age; make them do their own homework with limited parental involvement. Have them fill out camp forms, do laundry, earn their own spending money. In those self-sufficient tasks, life-lessons will be their best coach.
Here’s to living the best version of you!
Stephanie Pletka is the creator of the blog Spit-up & Heels and is also a columnist for NorthFulton.com. She lives in Alpharetta, GA with her husband John and four children, Jack, Will, Andrew and Ava.