Over-parenting vs Under-parenting: There is a happy middle ground
I was talking to a colleague of mine from my days in private practice as a therapist the other day and we started talking a bit about parenting. Another woman we were with asked our thoughts on parenting today and if we thought that parents today are over-parenting their children. She seemed to be referring to parents rescuing and coddling their children.
I thought about it for a minute and the first thing out of my mouth was agreeing that sometimes we rescue children or "coddle" them but other times when they really need us we aren't responding to that need. We jump in to address and manage so many issues but when our kids feel emotionally overwhelmed and show this with anger, a tantrum, or less than desirable behavior we punish and isolate them when we should be helping them through that .
Being a parent, I get wanting to protect your child from any pain, discomfort, or hard lessons. It is innate in us to protect our children. It is hard to watch them struggle, cry, or hurt. We all are doing our best for our children and working hard to make them feel loved, supported, and safe.
My daughter came home from school and shared that she felt that a friend wasn't very nice to her and her feelings were really hurt. Deep in my gut I felt hurt and anger. I took a breath and we talked about it . I let her share her feelings and I validated them. I fought every urge to fix it, get mad, or get involved (especially since these typed of disagreements are fleeting, everything was fine again the next day).
This is the challenge for us as parents. To be able to be there fore our children without trying to fix or take care of everything. Our greatest growth as humans tends to come from challenging moments. Those uncomfortable moments in life help us grow. It is our job to be a supportive home base in which our children can feel safe so that they can face the world.
As we were talking we spoke about all the ways in which we as parents can hinder our children. In many day to day issues (arguments with friends, bad grades, not starting on a sports team) our jumping to their aid constantly is not helpful. It is not creating capable adults who can problem solve and address issues as they arise or manage challenging moments and failures. It may also be sending the message that they are incapable of managing challenges and that they need us to fix it. I am not suggesting that when our children come to us for help that we don't provide them with help. I am suggesting that instead of calling the teacher and arguing a bad grade or having a conversation with your child's friend to sort out a disagreement, that instead we offer support to our child. We validate their feelings, we process this experience with them, we help them find a way to manage the problem. We show them how to advocate for themselves. Of course if there is danger, abuse, or any other issue that is beyond a child's ability to manage, a parent must step in).
As I was sharing my thoughts I highlighted how I find it interesting that we tend to isolate our children or punish them when they need us the most. When our children are emotionally overwhelmed and exhibit challenging behaviors, tantrums, or just a lot of attitude, we tend to turn away or send them away. This is the time when they need us. That tantruming 4 year old needs support and assistance. They are overwhelmed and their only options is to yell, scream, and cry. These are the moments when they may need us as well. Instead of isolating them for bad behavior we need to help them manage and cope with their feelings. We need to allow them to express their feelings, to validate them, and to provide the support and guidance they need to learn to manage overwhelming feelings.
It is hard to know what do when our children are struggling whether it is with overwhelming emotions or with an external issue. The steps below will help you support your child without rescuing them or leaving them to flounder. Again there will be certain serious instances that we will need to take charge as parents, assuming the situation you are presented with is not one of these , you can do the following:
1) Listen. Let them feel heard and let them share their experience. Do not correct or argue. Ask question so both you and your child can have a greater understanding of the situation. Restate what you hear your child saying to make sure you understand it correctly.
2) Validate their feelings. Let them know that you also understand how they feel (you do not have to agree with them). Repeat back feeling your hear them express so that they feel heard and understood.
3) Share your own experience if helpful. Children need to hear hat they are not alone. Share a similar experience you had if it is helpful to your child.
4)Assist with problem solving. Ask questions to assist your child in identifying ways that they can manage the problem. Maybe an argument with a friend may need an apology. Help your child identify their own ideas for how to manage the problem.
5) Identify and explore fears. Facing our challenges can be scary. Be aware that facing someone whose feelings we have hurt or who is disappointed in us can be hard. Explore your child's hesitation and fear. Normalize it. Offer encouragement. Remind them that they are capable.
Through this process your child will learn that they can come to you, that they can solve their problems, and that they are capable in handing challenging situations.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach who offers one on one coaching services. Claudia is passionate about helping parents find joy and gain confidence in their parenting abilities. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.