Parenting is teaching children how to survive and thrive. How to meet life’s challenges, learn from them, and incorporate the lessons into their life tool boxes. Survival training begins early and continues throughout our life. Every developmental stage we enter is part of that training. So, when a young child is learning to walk, they are also learning to pick themselves up when they fall. There is a case to be made that this skill may be more important than walking. Learning to navigate through the ups and downs of life is fundamental for surviving. Picking yourself up following difficulty keeps people moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other.
We parents want to protect our children from struggling and smooth their paths. To intervene so that they are assured of a happy and carefree childhood. But what does it mean to protect? Does it mean our children should not experience unpleasant emotions or struggle with a challenge? Or does it mean to allow them to have difficult experiences appropriate for their age and to mentor them through it, providing a learning opportunity for them and a teaching opportunity for us ? If a person does not learn skills to survive during childhood when parents are there to guide them, they are less likely to learn them in adulthood when they are on their own. This is particularly true when a child has a developmental, health, or physical challenge.
When children learn to confront and work through difficulties, they build self-confidence and a sense of competence and autonomy. Research regarding self-determination shows that children who have obstacles cleared away are more likely to experience high levels of anxiety and depression, lower school grades, and less satisfaction with their lives. Parents need to adjust their level of involvement based on what is developmentally appropriate as their children age. As too much parent involvement is not good, not enough is not good either. Finding the balance is dependent upon knowing and understanding your children and making a conscious decision about how and when to provide assistance. Don’t be afraid to allow your children to experience discomfort. Teach problem-solving skills to help them confront and handle the challenges they are presented with. Don’t set them up with expectations that everything in life should be happy and easy. Be a teacher. You are parenting for the future, your children’s future, a future in which you cannot guarantee that you will always be there to fix the potholes in the roads they are traveling. In the end, your children need to be confident, secure, and independent, trusting that they have learned the necessary skills and abilities to survive.
The Achieve Center blog is written by the professionals who are focused on children's mental health.