Loving parents usually want to give their children the best of everything, shield them from difficulties and are quick to tell them what to do when facing life’s challenges. But is this best for the child?

This is at the heart of the recent furore over the May 21 2012 Time Magazine which shows a four-year-old suckling his mother’s breast. The mother explains by saying that she was breastfed until she was six which gave her a huge amount of self-confidence and the ability to cope. This she is repeating for her child.

But is this approach is effective?

Contrast this with rural Africa, where children routinely help with collecting water, assisting with the care of siblings, helping with the cultivation of crops and then walk to and from school. This early assumption of responsibility may lead to developing hardiness and “grit”. Examples are William Kamkwamba, the Malawian boy who built a windmill from scrap tractor parts, and Richard Turere, who developed a lighting system to protect his family’s cattle from lions on the outskirts of Nairobi.

It’s well documented that children who experience high levels of stress are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and psychological problems later in life. But being protected at an early stage from life’s knocks and disappointments can have an equally debilitating impact. Such children grow up being dependent on others to assist with making decisions, and not understanding and taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions. In short, mollycoddling our children has the direct opposite effect that we desire.

Children need to experience disappointments, troubles and even 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.

The moral? Encourage your children to make their own decisions, to take sensible risks and allow them to fail if the results are not catastrophic. That’s probably a better way to develop strong and resilient children.

What do you think?