As a former high school teacher, I’ve experienced a pretty vast range of behavior, and a lot of what I’ve come across has influenced my own parenting in profound ways. Often, we as parents don’t even realize the subtle influences we are having on our children and the way they handle frustration, rejection, and other difficulties in life. Here are some behaviors we should consider changing, and reasons why they are hurting and not helping our children.
1. Best Science Project in the School: also known as best essay, best book report, best research paper, best diorama, best homework, best art project, best whatever. –We as parents think we are helping our kids when we help them with their schoolwork. This isn’t always true. Yes, it’s important to make sure our kids understand what they are learning and to provide opportunities in the real world to practice what they learn in the classroom, but please, please stop doing your kids work. This was such an out of control problem in my classroom that I resorted to having my students only write essays in class. The teacher is not there to grade what mom and dad knows, but to grade what the child knows. You are teaching your child that his/her work isn’t good enough. This leads to severe anxiety, and sometimes depression. I’ve had students refuse to hand in work because they were afraid to have it “judged”. We cannot strip away the learning process. It’s okay to let our children make mistakes, and maybe even, gulp, fail. We learn from experience. We learn from doing. We don’t learn when something is done for us.
2. Chores: This follows in the same vein. The best gift my mother-in-law gave me was that her son knows how to do laundry, dishes, minor repairs, sew a button, etc. We don’t have to be our kids’ best friend. In fact, we shouldn’t be. It’s ok that they complain about chores. That’s normal. But that doesn’t mean we should let them off the hook. They’ll be grateful down the road that they have a skill set they need to survive outside of their parents’ house. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve come across who don’t understand the benefits of work. Or how many people I taught the art of laundry to in college. Or how many “kids” I know who lived at home until they were thirty. Yes, thirty. Our job is to prepare our children for survival in the real world. Let’s not lose sight of this.
3. Let Your Kid Cry: I have so many friends who are afraid to let their babies/children experience frustration. They will do anything possible to keep their child from crying, even if it is a detriment to everyone involved. Baby can’t do tummy time because baby cries! Baby can’t go in the crib because baby cries! Quick, give baby medicine, homeopathic or otherwise, because baby is teething, or you are on a long car/plane ride and want them to conk out, or baby has sniffles. Child doesn’t have to try healthy food because child pitches a fit! Child doesn’t have to be respectful because it’s easier not to deal with a tantrum. It’s okay for our children to have emotions. It’s okay for them to feel annoyed, vexed, frustrated, even angry. By taking away the stimulus, we are teaching our children that emotions are bad. That it’s weak to cry. That it’s wrong to feel sad. Instead, I challenge us to teach our kids about emotions–how to handle them and how to work through them. We all feel things. Let’s not deprive our children of something that is actually very healthy. By doing this, we are also teaching compassion for others, and Compassion, especially in today’s society, is beneficial to all.
4. Table Manners and Food: The next time you are at a family friendly restaurant, look around. Count how many kids are occupied by technological devices. Look at how many parents are ordering their kid something off the kids’ menu. A kids menu which is typically comprised of something ridiculously unhealthy like chicken fingers, Mac and cheese, hot dogs, or pizza. No wonder our kids have no patience and throw fits when we offer them a carrot. We are teaching them that we need to distract ourselves every second. We are teaching them to look down instead of up. We are not teaching them how to make conversation, how to enjoy the company of others, and how to be patient. When these kids are in school, no wonder they can’t sit still. No wonder they can’t focus. No wonder so many kids are being diagnosed with ADHD. We as parents must educate by example. Look up. Make eye contact. Practice the fine art of conversing while you wait for your food. Teach your kids that waiting isn’t a bad thing; think of all the things you can do with your time! Don’t teach your child that food is a tool utilized when you want your child to behave. Goldfish, Cheerios, fruit packets… Kid is crying, give him a goldfish. Kid is running a muck, give her some Cheerios. You have to wait for the doctor, wait on a line, drive in the car, give your kid some fruit pouches in exchange for 10 seconds of silence. We’re teaching negative food associations from jump. Furthermore, enough with the kid menus. Why are all of the choices so awful? Why are we letting our kids mindlessly distract themselves only to be rewarded with processed, sugary, unhealthy foods??? Order your child a healthy appetizer as his/her meal. Order a side or two of vegetables. Order your kid a regular meal. Just please join me in boycotting the children’s menu. We are creating picky eaters. Teach them to be excited to try vegetables and fruits. We can change this before they go off to school and eat nothing but cookies and chocolate milk for lunch everyday. Trust me, even if you pack a lunch, you’d be surprised what your child eats for “nourishment” at school.
5. Play: Let your child play. Let your child run around the block, get covered in mud, skin his/her knees. Let your child explore. Let your child ride a bike to his/her friend’s house. I know we feel fear. I feel fear. But I need to do what’s best for my child, not what is best for me. I need to let my daughter be independent. I need to let her learn from her mistakes. I can’t put her in a bubble. I can’t control her environment. But I can prepare her to handle bumps in the road by fostering a sense of confidence and independence. I refuse to take that gift away from her, even if it scares the living day lights out of me. I’ve had so many students who needed constant reassurance. Who suffered from a severe lack of self esteem. Who were afraid to make any decision, no matter how innocuous. Teach your child to be brave. To be street smart. To be decisive. To take calculated risks. To believe in him/herself and to not settle because it’s more comfortable. Teach your kid to challenge him/herself with the big slide. With the karate lessons where he/she doesn’t know a soul. With the AP statistics course even though math isn’t his/her “strong suit” (or so someone has said.) By hovering around your child you’re teaching dependence. You’re teaching that you feel your child isn’t strong enough to try something on his/her own. That you don’t believe in your child’s ability to handle the situation. Trust your kid. Because you’ve prepared your kid.
I realize I’m not the parenting-wonder-of-the-world. But I have seen the direct effects of what coddling can do to a child down the road. Oftentimes, we aren’t thinking long term, we are thinking about our baby, no matter what the age of our child is. Be safe, but be strong! Don’t take the easy road as a parent. Challenge your child and challenge yourself. Expect more from BOTH of you.