Article at a Glance

  • When we are overprotective our children grow up without knowing how to handle setbacks and failure.
  • Self-esteem comes from learning how to handle tough problems and being able to recover after failing.
  • Children need to have responsibilities and be given the freedom to fail in order to feel real pride in their successes.

Our children mean the world to us and we want them to be happy and successful. So we schedule, volunteer, and chauffeur so that our children have every opportunity to learn and grow. But have we missed something? We have set our children up to succeed, but do they know how to fail?

The art of failing

When we shelter or overprotect our children, they grow up without knowing how to handle setbacks and failure. Over-managing our children’s lives robs them of the chance to learn how to be independent and resilient.

Self-esteem doesn’t come from being protected from disappointment and heartache, it comes from learning that you can handle tough problems and recover from failures. You can’t develop a can-do attitude if you have never been allowed to do anything. Children love to master new skills because it brings a sense of pride and independence. But if we are always micromanaging our children, they never feel like they have done something on their own. Children need to have responsibilities and be given the freedom to fail in order to feel real pride in their successes.

When our children’s lives are so full with extra-curriculars, it can squeeze out things like chores and responsibilities in the home. Children need these opportunities to feel like contributing members of the family who are important and capable.

We do not become confident and independent adults overnight. It is something that we have to learn little by little. Children need to experience age-appropriate problems and failures so that they are well prepared to handle bigger problems when they are older. When we protect children from these kinds of lessons, they lose opportunities to learn important life skills. Learning how to weather storms and overcome set backs now, will teach our children how to become capable adults later.

The dangers of overparenting

Overparenting means being overly involved in your child’s daily life in an effort to help them succeed or protect them from difficult situations. Overparenting is well intentioned, but often backfires.

When parents are quick to step in and solve problems, children aren’t allowed to develop the emotional resources they need to cope with life and setbacks. As a result, children become anxious because they feel helpless, powerless, and incapable. They have gotten used to playing with a safety net and don’t know how to handle life without it.

Working with your child’s teachers

School is not only designed to teach math, science, and reading, but it also teaches our children how to be organized, schedule their time, be responsible for their work, and work with others. Parents need to allow teachers to do their job and give their children the freedom to fail. It is much better for your child to learn in school that late or sloppy work isn’t acceptable, then when they are adults working full time to support a family.

Am I overparenting?

If you are worried about overparenting, here are a few questions to ask yourself.

Do I often take my children’s side in a situation before I stop to learn the facts?
Although your child may or may not have been the instigator, children need to be accountable of whatever role they played. Ignoring or mitigating guilt teaches children that they don’t have to accept accountability for their actions. This will make things like jobs and relationships harder when they are older.

Do I often solve problems for my children that they could resolve on their own?
When children see their parents rush in to fix their problems, it teaches them that other people are responsible for fixing their problems and that they are incapable of doing it on their own. Children learn problem-solving skills best when they have to apply them in their own lives. While it can be painful to see your child struggle, it is also an important part of growing up.

Do I allow my children to experience the natural consequences of their own decisions?
Life is full of natural consequences and it is how we learn to make better decisions. Before you rush in to help, ask yourself if the resulting consequence is safe and age-appropriate. If so, let your child experience and learn from the consequence. For example, a child who forgets to wear a jacket on a cold day will very quickly learn that it is a good idea to wear a jacket.

Do I ever let my children fail or do I always jump in to help?
If your children fail, it is not the end of the world, but a chance for them to learn a valuable lesson. Not only do they learn how to get back up, but they learn that failure is only temporary and that things will get better. When your child is struggling with a homework assignment, it can be tempting to step in and just do it, but it isn’t helpful.

Do I let my children face challenges?
Children build confidence by doing hard things. By allowing our children to rise to a challenge, they build self-confidence and independence.

Do I help my children place challenges in proper perspective?
Watching your child struggle with friends or other situations can be hard. It might be tempting to step in and fix things. But a better approach is to help your child put things in perspective. For example, instead of getting upset over a mean child’s behavior, teach your child how to move on and find somebody nice to play with. Learning how to find the silver lining or when to ignore the negative is an important part of resiliency.

Do I often praise my children profusely?
Doling out lots of praise does not build self-esteem, especially if the praise is not tied to anything. Putting children up on a pedestal gives them a distorted idea of what is required to succeed and makes them anxious about living up to expectations. It is good to give praise, but praise should be based on something and it should focus on effort rather than natural talent or the end result. For example, rather than praising your child for getting an A or for being so smart, praise your child for working so hard on homework.

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Helping our children succeed by allowing them to fail

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