It’s painful to see your child hurting or struggling. It hurts your heart to see the sad look on their face and hear them sob. It’s agonizing to see them make mistakes and appear so helpless.
For example, when your child is a baby learning to crawl and cries because he is still developing the strength and coordination to get where he wants to go, you just want to pick him up and kiss his little face and help him along.
When your school-aged child comes home riddled with anxiety because she forgot about a big school project that’s due the next day, you just want to take the worry away. So you take charge of the situation and help her so that she can hand in the project on time.
When your teen oversleeps and therefore misses the school bus, you drive her to school yourself.
We can’t help it. We love our children and want to take care of them and help them.
We want to alleviate their suffering as soon as humanly possible and see them smile again.
We want them to know they can count on us when they need us.
But each time we offer them a quick solution to their problem, or rescue them from a bad grade, or save them from feeling the least bit of discomfort, we are “over-parenting”.
And when we over-parent, we are actually doing our children a grave disservice.
Parents often have an internal conflict when their child makes a mistake or forgets a responsibility, says Mary Tamborski, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer and Parenting Coach.
“For example, when your kid forgets their lunch at school. You think, if I don’t bring them this lunch, they’re going to be hungry. They’re going to be starving. They’re not going to pay attention in class. Then maybe they won’t get a good grade on their social studies test. And it’s all my fault. What’s a teacher going to think about me if I don’t bring my child their lunch?”
So you end up taking time out of your workday to go to the school and bring them their lunch.
By doing so, you may have spared your child a few hours of hunger in the short-term, but in the long-term, you’ve trained your child to not take responsibility for themselves.
According to Mary, who has advised hundreds of parents on the dangers of overparenting through her classes and workshops, rescuing your child every single time teaches them that they don’t need to plan ahead of time or learn from their mistakes, because you’ll be right there to solve their dilemma. You’ll save them from dealing with the consequences of their actions.
They’ll likely forget their lunch again and again.
Or forget a school project is due soon.
Or skip brushing their teeth night after night.
While it may seem loving to help your child in the moment or keep reminding them of things they need to be doing, it’s not loving to get them used to never having to consider consequences.
Or to grow up believing that love means having others do things for you, which is how entitlement develops.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be mean when they’re struggling.
According to Mary, it’s all about being kind and firm.
“When I was nine years old, I forgot my lunch,” Mary admits. “The teacher said, go to the office and call your mother and ask her to bring it. And I’m thinking as I walked to the office, yeah, I can do that. But I think I already know how this is going to end.
So I called my mom and said, I forgot my lunch. She says, ‘Oh honey, I’m so sorry. I’m at work and that’s not going to work for me. You know, I have faith in you that you’ll be able to get some leftovers from your friends or from the cafeteria. And I also know you’ll probably learn from this.”
Being kind and firm means saying no with love, and reminding your child that you have faith in his or her abilities to solve their problem. It’s about letting your child experience the natural consequences of their actions.
Like going hungry when they forget their lunch. Or missing recess because they forgot to do their homework.
“I can tell you that as a child, the natural consequences are the worst. But as a parent, the natural consequences are also the worst! It’s painful. I always try to think long-term and it’s not easy.”
Mary’s mother, Dr. Jane Nelsen, agrees. She’s the author of the Positive Discipline Series and co-founder of a worldwide training program that has certified thousands of Positive Discipline Facilitators in over 70 countries.
“Teaching your child the skills and capabilities they need in order to be adults is the exact thing that over-parenting undermines,” she says.
They can handle the mistakes and the disappointments of life much better when they’ve got a support system, but not a rescuing system.
When you over-parent you’re not letting them develop their problem-solving skills and their capability muscles. Therefore, they’re going to have problems all their life.”
And as a parent, that’s the last thing you want for your kids!
You want to do what’s best for your kids.
If you’ve always been the kind of parent who steps in immediately to help your child out, it’s because you assumed that was the best way to be supportive and loving. Maybe it’s how you were raised, or it’s the opposite of how you were raised (and why you’re doing it this way).
We simply don’t know what we don’t know.
That’s why we decided to turn to some of the world’s top experts and get their insights and advice on how to parent in a way that builds your child’s capability muscles.
These experts revealed powerful tips and strategies on how to be kind and firm in real-world parenting situations, so that your child knows they’re loved and supported but also that you trust them to use their internal resources instead of always relying on you to solve their struggles.
They also had insights from decades of clinical practice working with families on developing a healthy family structure that supports raising kids who grow up to be mature and respected instead of entitled adults.
This is more than just letting kids do things for themselves whenever appropriate, this is about setting a good example so your kids grow up to have positive beliefs about themselves and about family and responsibility.
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You’ll also learn:
As parents, we’re going to make mistakes. And that’s okay—mistakes are part of life. They’re an opportunity to learn and do better, for ourselves AND our kids.
That’s why we at Flourish want to give you the tools you need to make your job as a parent much easier, more joyful, and more connected.