It has to be one of the most difficult things ever to watch your child cope with life’s heartaches. Even when we know that learning and spiritual growth come about during life’s trials, it isn’t easy to watch. It is natural for parents to want to protect their child.
Though we all desire for life to be absolutely fair, it isn’t. The natural order of growth and development is to learn through experiences. Just as a child learns to walk by falling down and getting up to try again, so most of life’s lessons are leaned through trial and error.
When parents see their child dealing with struggles and disappointments, they tend to want to fix it. They may become helicopter parents who hover over their child and do not allow the child to experience life’s natural consequences. The child, then, can’t develop or learn how to cope with situations on his own. Single parents may have a hard time with this if they have seen their child’s heartache over a divorce. When the other parent is absent, the single parent may become overly focused on the child. Helicopter parents describes “A style of parents who are over focused on their children,” says Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders. “They typically take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences.”
How does a parent know which experiences to allow the child to handle on his own?
It helps if you remind yourself of their age and the world they face. Encourage them to tell you about situations that trouble them. If the problem involves bullying, you may have to be involved in a solution. If it is less serious, you can use it as a teachable moment and share ways the child might handle it on his own. Never do for a child what he is capable of doing for himself. After all, each success he has will build confidence for handling life.
Expect that your child will make mistakes, even fail at times. A child needs to know early that we all make mistakes. Some are more serious than others. You can illustrate ways they can learn from mistakes.
Let your child know that none of us is perfect. We all deal with disappointments and heartache—even adults—and we all can learn from our experiences. Be open about mistakes you have made in the past or in the present if they will help your child better realize that life’s difficulties are common to all of us.
“Failure is an event, not a person.” – Zig Ziglar
Use life examples to teach life lessons:
- Point out lessons you’ve learned from experience.
- Point out character flaws in obvious cases, with examples on television, perhaps, or as they study characters in history lessons.
- Read the Value Tales Series biographies by Dr. Spencer Johnson to or with them, especially for school-age kids.
- Keep adolescents and teenagers in the youth group at church.
- Watch good television and discuss the moral lessons in the plot. Blue Bloods is a good example of complex moral dilemmas suitable for older children.
- Have healthy discussions about moral issues at the dinner table on a regular basis.
You can’t protect your children from life. You can teach them how to live it.
Because we learn from experience, and so do our kids.
Additional resources: About Parenting article by Robin McClure, “When Kids Fail,” and Bright Horizons – “Helping Children Learn From Failure.”