Friday, May 2, 2014
Raising Resilient Children
Our kitchen door is heavy. It's an old house, and the door is basically a solid piece of wood. One morning recently, my four year old son discovered that he could hang from both handles on either side of the door and swing from it, riding it back and forth.
I stifled a laugh, and found myself explaining why this was a bad idea. I fondly remember doing that too, when I was little. I was proud of his discovery, but careful not to show it too much. "Furniture's not for climbing," right? I heard that a million times as a kid. Now it's my turn to repeat it.
But, beyond simply hearing "don't..." whenever I did, I would also be encouraged to find an appropriate alternative outdoors... so out we went.
My son and I went to the hardware store to buy rope, and when we got home, he watched me build him a tire swing on a tree in our yard, helping where he could. When it was done, I pushed him on it a little while until he wanted to get down.
I hadn't bothered to shorten the rope yet, so there was a length of it hanging from the tire; my son was pushing the tire around so that he could chase the rope. He'd catch it, and pull it so the tire would swing around again. Content that he was occupied for the moment, and that his game of "catch the rope" didn't need my immediate attention, I went to put the ladder back in the garage. I came back to find my son kneeling on the ground and crying hard. The tire had caught him in the mouth - it probably knocked him right over - and, of course it hurt.
I felt horrible. I shouldn't have left him! Right?
Trying to soothe him, I held him tight, wiped his tears and asked him what happened. I'm so proud of how he responded to getting knocked flat:
"The tire hit my lip....
...but it's okay, Daddy. I caught the rope!"
Sometimes, as parents, we just want to bubble-wrap our children. We want to protect them from everything... but then, at the same time, we want them to excel. We want them to be well-adjusted and resilient.
Guess what? You can't have both. You can't have learning without risk. You can't have a well-adjusted child if you're going to behave like some kind of parental-surveillance helicopter, and they'll certainly never learn resilience that way. So, if you're going to bubble-wrap your kids and keep them safe on the sideline... yes, they'll be "short-term safe." But you're sacrificing their long-term development for the sake of your own (sometimes exaggerated, let's be honest...) short-term fears. As they get older, you're going to wonder why they aren't motivated, or why their self-esteem is so poor. You're going to wonder why they just don't bounce back from disappointments the way you wish they would. You're going to wish they'd just roll with the punches a bit more.
Being overprotective does nothing but increase anxiety - yours and theirs! They're not going to learn a thing from being held back, and you're just keeping yourself in a perpetual state of worry.
I believe that giving my son room to fall down also gave him the chance to get back up and to learn resilience. We can't have success in our lives until we've also had mistakes - and I want to equip my son to handle those well.