It’s not what happens to a child, it is how a parent helps him or her deal with it. Saving kids from disappointment and failure creates a sense of entitlement and a victim mentality in a child. These are two things this world does not need more of.
A compilation of nation-wide surveys since 1986 indicates an ever-growing trend of entitlement ingrained in America’s youth. The snow-plow parenting trend may be a contributing factor. A parent who removes obstacles from their child’s path so that the child has a fail-safe entree to success is enabling their child. Enabling strips the child of self-efficacy because the clear message from the parent to the child is, “You don’t have what it takes to make it on your own, so I have to fix things for you.”
Even if the parent is covert about their manipulations, the child undoubtedly will catch wind of it at some point, which may be devastating for the child. Receiving this message multiple times, in whatever form, may convince the child that they are a victim who needs and deserves special treatment. It may also create dependency and enmeshment in the relationship between the child and parent. A parent who cannot tolerate their child’s failures may be a parent who cannot not tolerate their own.
Tenacity, gumption, courage, humility, and dedication are qualities most parents want their child to possess because, ultimately, these qualities lead to success in a person’s personal and professional life. If a parent enables a child, he or she may be squelching the child’s ability to embody these characteristics. Does this mean the parent should be aloof and detached, no. Does the parent need to be supportive, encouraging, empathic and empowering, yes. Most importantly, when the child does fail, the parent needs to be there for the child.
Take for example, a 9-year-old boy whose lack of strength and power leaves him humiliated on the baseball field. He gets cut from a team that the rest of his buddies make. An empathic parent does not call the coach and demand or bribe he take the child. Instead, a parent might attempt to get in tune with how the little boy is feeling. Chances are good that he is hurting. Empathizing with this feeling is critical. The parent should recall a time when they were last hurt and disappointed, so they can authentically convey that they understand how the young boy feels.
“You are so disappointed, honey. I get it. I would be too. I’m proud of you for trying. That took a lot of guts.”
If the little boy opens up about how he feels with a statement like, “I’m not strong, mom. I’m weak.” The parent needs to empathize again, “It hurts to not feel strong, buddy. I have felt like that a lot in my life. I went from being the best runner on my team to the worst runner my senior year in high school. It hurt so bad. I get it.”
After several spoonful’s of empathy, the parent should encourage and reassure the child. “Keep at it, honey. You’ll get it. I’ll help you train if it helps.”
Because the parent truly understands how the child feels and sincerely conveys this to the child, the child feels understood and less alone. The child also feels closer to the parent because the parent understands. The empathy followed by encouragement heals and empowers the child.
It’s not what happens to a child, it is how a parent helps them with it. A child’s mistakes and failures are opportunities to instill resiliency and tenacity in a child. Empathy and empowerment are critical tools when helping a child with a negative experience. Other important parenting interventions include, always validating character ahead of achievement, reminding a child that the process is more important than the outcome, and most importantly, that the parent loves who the child is, not what they achieve.