As a loving parent, you want to give your child the best of everything, shield them from difficulties and give advice to help them through life’s inevitable challenges.
But is this best for your child?
Contrast this with child rearing in rural Africa, where children routinely help with collecting water, assisting with the care of siblings, help with the cultivation of crops and then walk to and from school.
Take for example William Kamkwamba, the Malawian boy who dropped out of school due to lack of funds, and built a windmill from scrap tractor parts. The windmill is used to water his family’s crops and generate electricity.
Or young Richard Turere, who was responsible for the safety of his family cattle on the outskirts of Nairobi. He developed a lighting system using a motor car battery and LED light bulbs which protected the cattle from marauding lions.
These early assumptions of responsibility led to them making decisions and learning from the outcomes. This most likely helped them develop hardiness and “grit”, which are crucial elements of building resilience.
Our natural inclination as parents is to do whatever we can to protect our children from life’s knocks and disappointments. That’s good because research has shown that children who experience high levels of stress are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and psychological problems later in life
But on the other hand, we can go too far. If we over- protect them, they will grow up being dependent on others to help make their decisions, and not take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. In other words, too much of our best intentions to protect and help our children can backfire and ironically actually have a debilitating impact on them.
Children need to experience disappointments, troubles and heartaches at a young age in order to develop their coping ability and resilience “muscles”.
It turns out that even experiencing failure early in life is necessary for coping and success later on.
In short, mollycoddling our children has the direct opposite effect that we desire.
So what does this mean for you, as a loving parent, close relative, mentor or concerned educator?
Here is some advice that may be difficult to accept, because it might go against your natural nurturing tendencies. It’s simply this: allow your child to fail provided the consequences are not catastrophic. Start by encouraging your child to make their own decisions, to take sensible risks and then allow them to fall and bump their head, either literally or metaphorically.
It’s when they have bumped their head that your love and concern for the child is crucial. Help them work through why they have failed and what they should learn from the experience. Your guidance and coaching will help them to not feel overwhelmed by their setbacks.
So here’s how you can develop strong and resilient children:
- Allow your child to make as many age appropriate decisions as they can, within the limits and boundaries you have set. That will help develop self-confidence.
- When they make decisions that you know will end unhappily, point out to them the potential consequences and a more appropriate decision. Allow them however to make their own decisions, where the consequences of the outcome are not too risky or dangerous. Again, this will develop their self-confidence.
- When they experience heartache, disappointment and failure, talk them through why and how this occurred and help them to understand and recognise the role that they played. Help them make sense of the experience, and put the experience into perspective in their lives. This will help develop self insight, judgement and decision-making.
Allowing your child to take decisions and experience the consequences is the best way to develop your child’s ability to cope with life’s inevitable heartaches and disappointments. That will help your child learn to bounce back and be resilient, which is every parent’s wish for their child