by Lianne Bergeron
Do you let your kids make mistakes? Or do you always jump in and “save” them, just before they do. Protecting them – that’s what it’s called. At least that what many think it’s called. But is it?
Are we protecting our kids by ensuring that they will not know how to work something out for themselves? Are we protecting our children by solving everything for them? We are part of the over-protective generation of parents of today and we do it because we care: we do it with the right intentions but are the results really what we are looking for?
I was recently at a lecture by Steven Pont, a Dutch child psychologist and on the way to becoming the new Dutch Dr. Spock – He is a big fan (and has done a lot of research) on over-protective parenting. In his lecture he listed some examples of “mistakes” kids should and can make and made me think about how I am with my kids. In fact, what I didn’t realize is that by making decisions for them, we are creating less confident kids.
So let me ask you:
Do you let your child forget something she needs for school?
Do you decide whether or not your 8 year old should wear a coat outside?
Do you feed the gold fish even though you made a deal with your son that it was his responsibility?
One of the most important things we can do to help our kids learn is to let children make mistakes.
In fact, kids learn best by making mistakes and coming up with their own solutions. If they don’t, they aren’t learning how to do it differently the next time. It teaches them responsibility. It helps them to grow up and learn how to take care of themselves.
It’s easier said than done of course. Women, in general, protect, but we can also over-protect.
One of my favorite parenting books is called: How to Talk to Kids so they will Listen and Listen so they will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It illustrates many examples of how problems can be solved by your kids, which often empower them to stand behind their solutions. It’s the same idea.
I’m not suggesting that you let your child cross the street if he’s not ready or make “dangerous” mistakes – but let’s start with some of the little ones then can learn from.
The rules are:
- Is it safe to let them make this mistake?
- Will it disturb or bother other people (like neighbors)?
- Is it age appropriate?
If you can say Yes to these questions then it’s a go ahead! Let them experience.
Scenario 1: Child forgets his homework on the kitchen table.
What do you do? What will your child learn if you bring it to school? She will know that you are always there as a back up. What will your child learn if you don’t bring it to school? That she better do a double check next time so she doesn’t get into trouble with his teacher. That’s a win.
Scenario 2: It’s cool outside and your child (say 4+ age) doesn’t want to wear a coat.
And remember – you can’t get sick from just being cold. What do you do? Nag? Make her wear a coat? Or just say – OK – you are big enough to make this decision (and don’t bring a coat for her as back-up). It could be that 15 minutes into your walk or outing that your child is cold. Learning point. You can bet that next time she’ll check outside first or pack her own just in case.
Scenario 3: A group of kids (including one of yours) is playing soccer near a creek.
You can predict that the ball will end up in the water. Do you tell them to move away because the ball will end up in the water or do you let them experience it? (Obviously they have to be able to swim and it can’t be a dangerous fast moving current – that wouldn’t qualify as safe in the rules) – If you tell them to move, they aren’t learning anything, just moving because you said so. If you don’t and the ball goes into the water – they will have to find a way to get it out and you can bet that they will find a better place to play. And they will remember that again next time.
Scenario 4: Your son insisted on getting gold fish but always forgets to feed them.
You agreed when he got them that it was his responsibility so… What do you do? The question is – how far do we go? I think about not feeding the fish – it’s not my job. But if the fish dies, it is my job to sort out the crying kids. So I feed the fish. But I shouldn’t. He needs to learn to take care of his fish. Every day. My son often forgets to lock his bike, I remind him a little too often – do I let him forget and it gets stolen? He would for sure learn his lesson but… Or what about bringing their stuff inside from the yard? It rains, it gets ruined…
But really, one day I won’t be there to protect and I sure hope that I’ve given them enough tools (including making mistakes and learning from them) that they can not only survive but also flourish out there on their own without me. That they don’t feel like a failure for making a mistake but see it as a learning experience.
Kids are incredibly resourceful if we let them be and they are good learners. And let’s face it – when was the last time we learned something we were told and didn’t experience ourselves?
Let your kids learn the hard way – the way we do!
You can read about what “real” experts and other parents think about this on these sites (or type in over-protective parenting):
Lianne Bergeron is an author and entrepreneur who lives and works near Amsterdam with her Dutch husband and four kids. She’ll share her life abroad without family support, kids that speak Denglish and traditions that aren’t hers. Life with four kids and 10 bikes and her on-going quest to balance it all on her bicycle built for six. Follow her on Twitter and read more about her books at LiannesQuickGuide.com.