So, that’s it. Pretty much anywhere you are in the northern hemisphere, kids are back in school. It’s always a shock to the system when you return to the chores of lunches to pack, homework to oversee and the myriad of activities that begin anew.
While we get caught up in the pressure of our day-to-day doldrums, we forget that our kids are often under pressure as well.
The adults in their lives expect them do as they’re told and do well in school.
Their peers have different expectations. As young as Grade 3, kids are under pressure to wear the right clothes, like the right music, have the right friends and be cool. Often, that leads to stress and anxiety for youngsters. Well-intentioned parents often try too hard to prevent the bumps and scrapes of feelings as kids grow up, but one parenting expert says they’re doing more harm than good.
Dick O’Brien has been a motivational speaker for more than 30 years and says parents who rescue their kids from the little calamities and stresses of childhood are setting them up for a lifetime of being unable to cope when things go awry.
“I hear from parents all the time ‘I don’t want my kid to struggle,’” O’Brien told me in an interview a few years ago. “What they don’t get is that life is a struggle.”
To help a child become resilient to stress, parents have to get better at saying no:
- No, it doesn’t matter if you don’t wear (insert trendy clothing style) to school every day.
- No, I am not going to call your teacher to get you out of gym or intervene on a grade.
- No, you can’t have an allowance without earning it.
Sure, it means disappointing your kids, but O’Brien contends kids who learn to deal with disappointment at eight and 10 and 12 grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults who deal with life’s little – and big – bumps in the road.
“One of the things parents do is they over-rescue their children,” he says. “One of the problems we have is that the more we rescue our children, the more we create adults who are unable to cope.”
It doesn’t just apply to kids learning how to deal with disappointment. O’Brien said parents also have to let kids experience the fear that comes from the thrill of the new or unknown, so they can discern between that and real danger.
Remember the mix of fear and excitement you felt the first time you walked to the corner store on your own? Probably not. Gen X kids, especially ones born at the beginning of that demographic, were the last ones to experience the type of freedom their Baby Boomer counterparts, and generations before them, enjoyed. Chances are, you were sent to the store for whatever your mom or dad needed, like this kid, when you were too young to even remember.
Yet we are the ones who have created a bubble-wrapped Generation Y; children and young adults fearful of the unknown, incapable of managing simple tasks without parental involvement and unable to cope when things don’t go their way.
But there is hope. O’Brien urges parents to differentiate between danger (letting kids ride their bikes on a highway, for example) and adventure (zipping down a big hill on their bike) so kids can learn the difference for themselves.Here are some ways to help the youngest Millennials deal with the pressures they experience day to day:
- Teach them that they are not defined by the clothes they wear, the stuff they have or where they live. If they are confident in their own skin, kids will learn to duck and dodge the slings and arrows chucked at them by similarly insecure classmates.
- Empower them. If kids know it’s OK with you to respectfully challenge authority and that you’ll support them if they need it, they’ll learn to stand up for themselves.
- When it comes to conflict resolution, stand back, mama bear, and let the cubs manage on their own. Unless there is real danger, such as physical threats, involved, it’s best not to intervene.
- You don’t like everyone you meet, and not everyone likes you. It’s the same with kids. Telling your child someone is wrong for not liking them is the swiftest way to create a narcissist who is unable to grasp the concept that they are not the centre of the universe, or a child who is desperate for approval and may make poor choices to fit in.
- Give them some freedom. Kids who have the chance to spread their wings in age-appropriate ways – walking to school or the bus stop unattended, hanging out with friends or going to the park unaccompanied, learn how to handle responsibility better than those who are chauffeured everywhere.
- Don’t overschedule your kids. While they do need to learn effective time-management skills, stressing them out by filling their evenings and weekends with activities doesn’t teach them how to put their leisure time to good use.
- Don’t shield them from disappointment. They can’t win every spelling bee, make first string on every team or be top of the class all the time. How you deal with these things will heavily influence your child’s response, so choose your words carefully.
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