Are Kids Getting Enough Hardship Inoculation and Empathy?
[by Scott Swain]
In the past twenty-five years of studying parenting and education, I've noticed a pattern. Let's call it "bubble-wrapped people". Most parents care about their children and justifiably want happiness for them. Unfortunately, these caring parents may not realize the benefits of allowing their children to experience hardship may often outweigh the pain or potential risk involved in the "hard" or "boring" or "dangerous" activity.
Here's an experiment to try: When a child has the physical and mental capability to do something for themselves, and they come to you asking for help they don't really need, put aside your need to nurture and insist they do the thing. Of course, you will weigh the risks! I'm not advising you to put your child in danger. The point here is not to harm or cause pain to your children. The point is to allow them to experience the natural consequences of the world around them so they grow up to be people who rise to a challenge, rather than shirk away in fear. And bonus: less work for you as a parent.
What I'm recommending is neither "permissive parenting" or "authoritarian parenting". It's part of a growing movement called "peaceful parenting" where we acknowledge that interference, especially coercion, comes with a price. Like most parents, we prefer our children grow up to be people who are peaceful, resourceful, responsible, powerful, and empathetic. So we, as examples, embody these traits for our children to see and experience as they grow up. Now many parents not studied up on peaceful parenting might say, "But I do all that!" Oh? Let's see.
Do you consider it peaceful to force your child to wear what you think is best for them to wear, rather than allow them to be responsible for their own choices and acquire the natural consequences lesson of learning that indeed that clothing earned them discomfort throughout their day? This is a battle you can, at an appropriate age, of course, choose to let go of.
Another example: Which of the following is more empathetic?
"Mommy the things that boy said to me hurt my feelings!"
(a) "That boy was wrong. He's mean. Ignore him!"
(b) "Oh my sweet baby! Let's get you some ice cream and a toy!"
(c) "Are you sad because it hurts to hear things like that and you want more consideration for your feelings?" AFTER empathy for your child, maybe even progressing to encouraging empathy for others with something like, "I wonder why that boy is hurting so much he says things like that to other people?"
Which of the above methods jumps straight to "fixing," "solution," and/or "us vs. them" programming and which gives empathy?
In a nutshell: Get in the habit of asking yourself, "Does this situation offer an opportunity to become a lesson in natural consequences or empathy?"