Bubble-wrap is to protect things that are fragile, to cushion them so they don’t become damaged if they get jostled or banged around.
Our kids are precious, but they’re not fragile. They’re not delicate.
When we bubble-wrap them and protect them from any injury, any distress, or any potential challenge, we actually make them more fragile. We communicate to them, “I don’t think you can handle this, and you need me to shelter you.” In so doing, we deny them the privilege of the practice of feeling and sitting in discomfort and finding their way out, and of seeing that they are strong and resourceful.
The more we bubble-wrap our kids, the more fragile they become.
Want your children to believe that you believe in them? Want them to be resourceful and resilient? Want them to be able to develop a sturdy, robust bandwidth for tolerating challenges, and then rise to meet them? Want them to know that they are not victim to their emotions and their circumstances?
Then let them feel. Let them wrestle with indecision, with discomfort, with discouragement and disappointment.
Our job is not to rescue them from hard things and uncomfortable feelings. Our job is to walk with them through their difficult moments with connection and empathy, allowing them to feel, allowing them to be active participants in problem-solving, and allowing them to discover the depth of their own capacity.
It’s out of our deep love for our children that we want to protect them, but their capacity will be greater, their spirit larger, if we allow that love to lead us to our own courage, so that we can feel strong enough to let them discover their own strength.
Here’s a little exercise that can help you think about what you want to prioritize as a parent.
First, engage in some time travel. Imagine yourself in the future, when your kids are grown. (If you want, you can have it turn out that you don’t look any older than you do now and that you’re driving a convertible sports car instead of a stinky minivan.) From that vantage point, look back at the way you raised your children. How will you feel about the parenting decisions you’ve made? The experiences you’ve given your kids.
For me personally, I’m constantly learning new things that make me say, “I wish I’d known that earlier.” I expect I’ll probably write a book in the future about what the parenting expert wishes she’d done differently, given the perspective of time (and emerging research.)
But if you were to ask me now to predict what I will one day say are the most important things my husband I did as parents that made the biggest difference in how well our three boys turned out—in my imagined future, it so happens that my kids are fantastic humans who have a very young-looking mother—here’s what I’d say.
So that’s an example of my list. What would be on yours?
Notice that this exercise asks you to think about what you’re doing well. You could make a similar list about what you wish you’d done differently. (Watch for a future article in which I outline some of the regrets I imagine I’ll be living with in the future. There will be plenty of those, I’m sure—although I always remind parents, as I do in this article, that even our parenting mistakes can be beneficial for our kids.)
The point in all of this is simply to remain aware and intentional about what we’re doing as parents. We might see changes we want to make, but we’ll also realize that there’s plenty we’re doing that we’ll look back on some day and smile, and even be proud of.
Last month your child was completely gung-ho about attending sleepaway camp. But now that the weather’s turning warmer, that enthusiasm might be turning to apprehension. Doubts, fears, anxieties, and even dread are normal for kids who are going to be away from their parents for a period of time, especially if it’s their first time, and especially if they are introverts.
We’ve got checklists for all the gear our children need at camp, but it’s also helpful to compile a checklist for preparing them emotionally if they are experiencing some cold feet or worries. It might look something like this.
An Emotion-Prep Checklist for Sleepaway Camp:
Another strategy is to teach him that while his feelings might feel really wild and stirred up, if he pauses to take a few deep breaths, the worries will settle, allowing him to see clearly again. The best thing I’ve found to teach this is the “glitter ball” analogy that Susan Kaiser-Greenland created. You can teach this to your kids by having them watch this super-short video with you. Then send a glitter ball, or a small snow globe, to camp with your child, explaining that he can shake it up and watch the glitter settle when he’s feeling upset.
If you do these two things in the weeks before your child leaves for camp, you can build some skills and empower him with some tools he can pull out when he needs them. This allows him to avoid becoming a victim to his feelings, but to be able to use his mind to change how he feels. (You might try some of these tools too, if you are feeling worried about sending your child off!)
This moment is a great opportunity to teach kids that while we should pay attention to our feelings, our feelings shouldn’t rule our worlds. If you talk, listen, normalize, and strategize, you will be preparing your children to go to camp with the best chance of overcoming their fears and learning something really important about themselves—that they are braver and stronger than they think. You’ll be doing much more than just prepping them for camp, you’ll be prepping them for life.
Your three-year-old won’t sit peacefully at the dinner table. Your five-year-old won’t join in at parties. Your nine-year-old is still asking to sleep with the light on
People tell you, “It’s just a phase.” But is it?
Yes. Most likely, it is. Whether we’re talking about sleep, eating, toilet training, homework meltdowns, or anything else, here are five reasons not to freak out about this particular phase in your child’s life.
Don’t let fear rule you and lead you to expect things from your child that he’s not developmentally ready for yet. Just because he’s not falling asleep by himself at four, doesn’t mean he never will. You will have lots of opportunities to help him develop this skill as he gets older. It’s rarely too late to teach lessons or introduce skills, so do it at a time when it works best for you and your child.
You don’t have to be concerned about what your child will be like at 15, or 20. You really don’t. So don’t give in to the temptation to worry that this phase will last forever. Your daughter won’t be biting her friends when she leaves for college. She won’t have a hard time sitting at a dinner table. Think in smaller chunks of time. Think about semesters or seasons. Give your child a few months to work through this phase, and know that as long as you’re there loving her, guiding her and providing a consistent presence in her life, she’ll get through it and learn the skills she needs.
I know. I’ve done it, too. We all have. Your child faces some difficulty, and you jump in right away to rescue them. To stand up for them. To make things right. You talk to a teacher. You handle things with their friend. You call their coach.
We need to resist this temptation to handle things for our kids.
Of course there are times we need to stand up for and defend our children. At times, we need to be absolutely fierce in doing so. But more often than not, we advocate for our kids when they should advocate for themselves.
It reminds me of that old saying: “Give a man fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” That makes so much sense, but when it comes to our kids, it’s hard not to spring into immediate action when we see them being treated unfairly or struggling in some way.
RELATED: Teaching Your Child to Share
But here are four main reasons to allow our kids to advocate for themselves:
1. Self-Advocacy Is a Crucial Skill
When we step in and handle a child’s problem, we short-circuit her opportunity to learn how to address a difficult issue. Having to visit with a teacher or address a problem with a friend can be a powerful learning opportunity. Give your child the benefit of getting practice using her voice and her logic. Teach her to assert herself, and to understand that she can be both respectful and strong. (And of course, you can always go with your child for support if she needs it.)
2. Discomfort Can Be a Good Thing
Even as you teach your children to assert themselves, remind them that it’s actually a good thing to have to do things that are difficult and that make them feel uncomfortable. To have to deal with a challenging situation, and to come out successful on the other side, is a great way to build resilience and confidence. Plus, it makes them Continue Reading »
The other day a reporter asked me to respond to a few questions about spoiling, and what it means for our kids. With the holidays coming up, this seems like a pretty timely subject. Here’s how I answered the reporter’s questions about what spoiling is, and just as importantly, what it’s not.
WHAT IS SPOILING? DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH MONEY SPENT? TIME? NEVER SAYING NO? ALL OF THE ABOVE?
Let’s start with what spoiling is not: Spoiling is NOT about how much love and time and attention you give your kids. You can’t spoil your children by giving them too much of yourself. In the same way, you can’t spoil a baby by holding her too much or responding to her needs each time she expresses them.
SO HOW DO WE SPOIL OUR KIDS?
The dictionary definition is “to ruin or do harm to the character or attitude by overindulgence or excessive praise.” Spoiling can of course happen when we give our kids too much stuff or spend too much money or say yes all the time. But it’s more than that. It’s also about giving them the sense that the world and people around them will serve their whims.
Again, it’s impossible to spoil children with too much nurturing or love or attention or time. Nurturing your relationship with your child or giving them a sense that they are entitled to your love and affection (or holding them when they’re little) is exactly what we should be doing. In other words, we let them know that they can count on getting their NEEDS met.
Spoiling, on the other hand, occurs when parents (or other caregivers) create their child’s world in such a way that the child feels Continue Reading »
Toddlers and preschoolers see their grown-ups and older siblings doing everything so easily. It can be frustrating and discouraging for these little ones to try and try, and not be able to do what they see everyone else doing.
Knowing that self-esteem can come from being competent at something, there are several ways we can empower our toddlers and preschoolers and give them opportunities to feel capable and competent:
Let them do things for themselves.
Sometimes it’s hard for a parent not to step in and quickly do something a child is trying to do. Especially if the child is taking a long time to, say, figure out how all of the chalk pieces will go back into the box. (Sometimes I want to pull my hair out when I’m watching my own four-year-old meticulously try to fix the Velcro fastener on the back of his Continue Reading »