In many ways all parents are alike—they don’t want their children to experience pain, loss, failure, disappointment or hurt of any kind. But in one way parents do differ. Some will let their children solve their issues on their own and some will step in to ease the way.
Protecting your child is a natural, loving reaction. But several experts say that allowing your child to experience failure and stress at a young age will help develop resilience and the ability to cope with life’s future challenges.
Therapist Lori Gottlieb of the Atlantic Monthly wrote about this dilemma in How to Land Your Kid in Therapy. Gottlieb purports that the definition of children’s happiness has changed over the years; it used to mean generally happy; kids were expected to find things to do to make themselves happy. Nowadays common thought is that children should never have anything unpleasant happen to them.
Gottlieb claims that feelings of anxiety, remorse, and guilt in childhood help people deal with those feelings later as adults. She goes on to say, “If you want your kids to be resilient and function in day to day life they need to experience some challenges, some struggle and some disappointment along the way.”
Two Oshkosh parents, both with responsible, happy adult children, agree with Gottlieb and share examples of letting their children experience the consequences of their decisions. Sandy* described an incident when her daughter was in fourth grade. Late at night, sobbing to her mother, she confessed that on a dare she had torn a poster off the wall in the school hallway. Instead of comforting her Sandy simply said, “You did it, you can’t take it back, and tomorrow at school you’ll just have to deal with the punishment.”
Mary* turned her son in when he broke the high school athletic code by attending a party where there was drinking. Consequently, and to the dismay of his coach, he was suspended from playing in an important soccer game.
Mary sees the value of participating in sports in youth as it gives children a taste of what it’s like to lose. Sandy argues that sports today seem to be all about making everyone feel good; all the kids play, they don’t keep score and everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season.
Psychologist Wendy Mogel agrees. In her book The Blessings of a B Minus she says children are praised for simply breathing in and breathing out. All of this praise sets them up for unhappiness later in life.
Gottleib concludes that by trying so hard to provide a perfectly happy childhood, parents are actually making it harder for them to become resilient, well adjusted, and yes–happy adults.
*author’s choice not to use real names