Let’s start by asking what is it in the world that you want most for your child?
More often than not the verbatim answer is ‘health and happiness’. Amen. Easy enough said, right? But oh such a tricky and non-linear journey to get there, namely because it does not always feel intuitively right.
Where we often get tripped up is that we think that to develop a happy child, we must eliminate struggle, pain and discomfort. In essence we become an expert ‘sweeper’ – you know that crazy winter Olympics sport of Curling – where a team member glides a stone along the ice and the rest of the team start desperately adjusting the friction of the ice in front with a set of kitchen brooms. Feel familiar? I sure know that at times this is exactly how my day feels.
And like with most actions taken by parents, it is done with the best intentions in mind; because really who wants to stand there and see your child take a fall, experience pain of the hardship of setbacks – Me, and here is why:
- Eliminating struggle, challenge and discomfort for your child is not only impossible, it also robs them of opportunity to develop strength in time of difficulty, confidence to navigate challenge and the capacity to manage themselves. The reality of being a parent is that you cannot be there in every moment of your child’s life and there is a time when they do not want you to be.
- If we impart on our children that difficult feelings are bad then we cast a shadow over the emotions that are inevitably part of life. We judge them. So not only does your child experience the challenge of the situation and their emotional reaction but also feelings of shame and guilt that they should not be having that experience.
- The ‘sweeper’ parent can also lead to and perpetuate the issue that so many teens, young and fully fledged adults face where we over estimate the difficulty of a situation and underestimate our own capacity to face it. This results in unnecessary and often pervasive stress and anxiety.
So the reason I am ok with seeing my children fail, become upset and encounter set backs is that I understand, appreciate and respect the importance of discomfort in my kids life. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t seek it out and I am there with open arms and dedicated time to help talk it through. But in the meantime, I like to stand back and watch. It is through learning to do this more and more and overcome the natural inclination to jump in and manage the situation for my child that I can see the beginnings of the strength of independence, empathy and confidence grow.
Wondering how you can navigate this tightrope of protection and independence:
- Step back and observe. You will be amazed at your child’s capacity to manage themselves. They may of course need some encouragement and guidance but resist the urge to take over and intervene.
- Look for safe opportunities to encourage discomfort – it could be in a new social setting or a new physical pursuit.
- As well as encouraging independence, keep it balanced with connectivity with your child. High quality connections can be formed through small interactions like story telling, hugs and play.
- Offer your child a feedback loop on what capability and strength you saw them use. Helping your child to recognise their own growth is fundamental.
Each child-parent relationship is individual. It is important to remain conscious in the way we approach our parenting role and develop awareness about what is informing our behaviour. If would like to explore this topic further, reach out and connect with us.
Written by Belinda Williams.
Belinda Williams is a local psychologist specialising in supporting women with the social/emotional aspects of the transition into and through motherhood. She specialises in helping women with anxiety and depression during and post-pregnancy, and is experienced in working with women to resolve relationship strain through developing self awareness, accountability and practical tools to resolve conflict and communication issues. Belinda’s in-depth organisation experience has developed a particular interest and unique skill in supporting women navigating career challenges and changes whilst balancing family.