Are You Making This Catastrophic Parenting Mistake?

raising resilient kids

Picture this.

Your child says they can do something themselves. Like, make their own sandwich.

So you get out all the ingredients and they start spreading.

Only, they're gouging the bread with the knife. Parts of the bread have lots of spread on it, and parts are bare.

It looks a mess.

What do you do?

Most of us will jump in and 'save' our child. We'll say something like, "Here, let me help you." And we'll spread things out evenly, or start with new bread.

Basically, we'll 'fix' their 'mistake'. But the thing is, we often don't even wait for them to finish.

We jump in before there are any tears or frustration and we correct things.

I've done it, too. But I've also allowed my kids to make messy, gouged out sandwiches and guess what?

Those are the best sandwiches they've ever eaten.

And here's the thing.

When we jump in and 'save' our kids from possible failure, we're robbing them of an experience.

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Experiencing Life

We do it with the best intentions, but we forget the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that it's crucially important that our kids learn to fail.

That's right - FAIL.

We hate seeing them do it. We hate seeing their pain and anguish, but we must learn to live with it.

Because if our kids don't learn to fail while they're in our care, when will they learn to fail?

How will they learn to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over?

How will they learn to be resilient?

You know how important it is to be resilient because you're resilient.

You've overcome obstacles and challenges throughout your life. Some of these challenges may have been due to choices you've made, but some of them were through no fault of your own.

Either way, you've dealt with the knocks that life always throws at you when you least expect it. It's part of life, and something we all have to do.

Wanting What's Best

We love our kids so much, and desperately want the best for them.

So we shield them from harm whenever possible.

We think we're doing the right thing because we're protecting them.

It's entirely natural. We brought them into the world and we don't want to see them taken out.

But it's a huge mistake that can have catastrophic results.

Because they grow into adults that can't cope.

And by can't cope, I mean they can't deal with day to day setbacks.

Ordinary stuff.

Like the woman who twisted her ankle while walking from her car to the office. She had no idea how to handle the situation.

She sat on the curb and called her boss to ask what to do.

Her (rather puzzled) manager suggested that as she could see the office, she should hop the short distance inside.

Here's another example.

A young woman my husband works with asked to go home at lunchtime because she had just heard that she had not won a place at an exclusive graduate program. It was the sort of thing that received hundreds of applicants for about four positions each year.

My husband drove her home and she told him, "This is the first time I haven't got what I wanted. I have no idea how to handle it."

She appeared shell-shocked. She was at an utter loss as to how to deal with the situation.

She had no coping skills. No life skills. No experience to draw on, to help her through.

And my question is: how will these young people deal with greater losses?

How will they deal with the grief and loss that's part of life?

The ordinary stuff that gets thrown at every one of us - like relationship breakdowns, miscarriage or redundancy.

And more importantly, how can we prevent our kids from growing up like this?

Here's the answer.

Raising Resilient Kids

We have to raise our kids to be resilient.

So, how do go about raising resilient kids? Well, it turns out it's not that hard.

Here's a 4-step plan to help teach your kids to be resilient (it also teaches them responsibility, so it's a double whammy!):

  1. Give them tasks that are achievable. It's OK if they take effort, as long as they're achievable.
  2. Hope that they will fail, at least on their first attempt. That's right, you want them to fail.
  3. When they fail, empathise. BIG time. Say, "Oh, that's so sad. What are you going to do?"
  4. Rinse and repeat

In step three it's critically important that you you ask them for the solution. This gets them to take responsibility, and use their problem-solving abilities.

If they ask for help, that's fine as long as you don't end up doing the whole task.

In the sandwich example, if they ask you to make it, you might suggest doing it together. They hold the knife, and you guide their hand while they spread so they get a feel for how to do it.

Not sure what tasks might be appropriate? Here's a quote I love from parenting expert Michael Grose:

"Never regularly do for a child what they can do for themselves."

What are you doing for your kids that they could be doing for themselves?

Even young children (like pre-schoolers) are capable of getting themselves dressed, putting away groceries in cupboards they can reach, and helping empty the dishwasher.

In fact, many parents find that they're amazed at how capable their children are when they have to be.

A Recipe For Happiness

I remember a single mum who broke her leg and was at home for several weeks. Her eight-year-old took great care of her and did many things that she just wasn't able to do.

She was both astonished and very proud of her son. And also resolved to do far less for him after that!

So put your thinking cap on and start working out what you're doing for your kids that they could be doing themselves.

Then start getting them to do more.

Let them fail. Because when they finally overcome the obstacles and achieve their goal, they'll be so proud of themselves.

This is the recipe for true happiness. To work hard, and achieve our goals.

So don't deprive your children of these experiences.

They deserve the opportunity to create their own happiness.

And you deserve to have a little help around the place, too!

Don't forget ...

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Cate

Cate is on a mission to help parents stop yelling and create families that listen to each other. She does this while imperfectly parenting two boisterous girls of her own, and learning from her mistakes. She has contributed to Tiny Buddha, Think Simple Now, A Fine Parent and many other awesome sites.