When it comes to our children, too often we find it hard to allow them to stand on their own two feet. Instead, we hold their hands, we reach for our toolbox or our magic wands and try and make the problems they face go away.
But what are we really teaching them? Are we, in fact, helping them at all?
As parents, we often get drawn into the trap of feeling as though we need to rescue our children, protect them from hurt, disappointment, fear or rejection. And yet experiencing these emotions is what helps to shape their resilience and increase their strength. Their experiences contribute to their resilience, helping them become more self-reliant, more independent. To take these experiences away, to “shield” them, can often be counter-productive. By jumping in and trying to fix everything, solve their problems, take their hurt away, we are often denying them the very experiences they need in order to grow. And all too often, we leave them with the message that they are not capable of doing it themselves; that we can do it better than them.
So I invite you to step back, put the “toolbox” or the “magic wand” down and allow them to feel, to problem solve, to think for themselves, to fight their own battles and develop their resilience. Here are a few suggestions as to how this can be done.
Be a supporter and teacher, not a rescuer. Children need to have secure relationships; they need to know that they have someone in their corner. Often, they need picking up and reassuring. Yet, it’s important that we allow our children to make their mistakes, that we encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and find their own solutions. Try not to fight their battles for them. By all means be there to step up if their voice is not being heard, or if the situation is out of their control, but allow them the opportunity to try to manage it themselves first. Be the back up, not the front runner. Be there, listen, and acknowledge them. Try not to dismiss their fears or worries. Help them problem solve, and find a solution that works, but don’t be tempted to solve their problems for them. Help them to overcome their challenges by themselves. The grin on their face as they experience a sense of achievement and confidence will be worth it.
Encourage them to try new things, give them responsibilities and develop their independence with age appropriate opportunities, e.g. being responsible for putting their clothes away, ordering their own food at a restaurant, dressing themselves or feeding themselves (no matter how long it takes or how messy it gets!) climbing rocks and trees, using knives to help prepare food. Try not to take away their independence by doing things for them that they are capable of. It may be quicker, easier, less messy for you to do it, but you are teaching them that you can do it better. Similarly, you cannot eliminate all risk. Allow appropriate risk taking, and let them learn essential skills. They need to be able to trust their own judgement, and feel a sense of achievement and pride.
Model and teach emotional regulation. When our children are hurt, we want to take that hurt away and “make it better”. But actually, it is more beneficial to help them recognise, acknowledge and experience their true emotions, rather than giving the message that it is in some way bad or wrong to feel upset or angry. Suppressing their emotions, pushing them away, will only led to bigger problems. Sit with them and listen to them. Don’t try to fix it. Just be there. In this way, they will learn how to cope with disappointment, failure, upset and rejection, rather than see it as something to fear, or something which they cannot regulate or control.
Keep expectations realistic. If our expectations are too low, children will easily meet them and not experience the importance of overcoming challenges. Equally, too high an expectation means setting them up to fail. Try not to put too much pressure on them, reminding yourself of their age and capabilities.
Let them experience failure, disappointment and make mistakes. All too often, we try and make that piece of homework perfect, nag them to practise their musical instrument or dance steps. We want them to succeed. But are we teaching them about consequences? Whose responsibility is it? Failure is not the end of the world. It allows us to see our mistakes, experience consequences and make our own choices. Similarly, we try and make everything “fair”. We ensure all the children at the party win a prize, for example (Pass the Parcel has certainly changed since I was young!). But what does this teach them about being resilient?
Let them experience being bored, not getting what they want, putting others before themselves, not getting the “quick fix”. We frequently try and meet all our children’s wants and needs immediately. We provide entertainment when they may have to wait for something e.g. an appointment, waiting for their meal to be served, etc. We want to give them the things they want for birthdays, Christmas, in the supermarket, even if this means be in debt. We give them a quick snack or convenience food because we don’t want them to have to wait (they may get “hangry” and act out!) But we are denying them the chance to learn to be patient, to have to wait, to realise that they will not always get everything they want even if “everyone else has one”. Remember to praise them for being patient, for being grateful for what they have.
Praise their effort and hard work, rather than the end result. If they have worked hard to overcome a challenge, or have had to repeat a test over and over before getting it right, acknowledge their achievement, courage and resiliency. Encourage a growth mindset: to fail helps us learn and grow; we get better with practice; see other peoples’ accomplishments as inspirational rather than as competition.
Let them know it’s okay to ask for help. As much as I advocate encouraging independence and self-reliance, I also believe it is important that children know that asking for help isn’t weak or failing; it is brave and strong to know your limits, to know when you need support.
Model resiliency. Our children watch us - all the time. They want to be like us, to imitate us. Show them that you, too, feel disappointment, experience failure and upset. But that it can be managed. It will pass. We will grow stronger from overcoming our challenges. Normalise these experiences and emotions for them.
See them. Really notice them: their qualities, their strengths, their unique personalities. Help them to see these things, too. Tell them you are proud of them, their courage, determination, kindness and thoughtfulness. Building their self-esteem and confidence will help them to be brave, to step out of their comfort zone, risk failure. Because they know that they are special, loved, worthy.
If you would like more information about helping your child with their emotions, please do see the Relax Kids page or email firstname.lastname@example.org