Are We Unintentionally Harming Our Children’s Ability to Be Secure Adults?


Isn’t it amazing how we can see what other parents are doing wrong, but we see ourselves as perfect parents?  To be fair, we are doing much more for and with our children than our parents.  Many parents are making sure to be better parents than their own parents were to them.  Unfortunately, many well-meaning parents are harming their children without realizing it.

Parents today want a better relationship with their children than their parents had with them.  And this is a wonderful goal. But are we afraid of our children being independent of us?  As children grow, they naturally want their own independence, but I wonder if some parents are afraid of letting go, afraid of losing control?

What we want for our children:

We want our children to be happy, have a healthy self-esteem, to have a sense of worth, be emotionally mature, self-confident, have control over their lives, make good decisions, have the capacity to deal with difficult situations, and compassion for others. In the book, Too Much of a Good Thing, Dan Kindlon puts it like this, “The happiness of our children comes from their engagement in the world: from compassion, independence, emotional maturity, and a sense of their own self-worth that is tempered by humility and a joy in being alive.”

How Do We Accomplish this?

Have children involved in a Challenging activity

Children and adults need to be challenged daily. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from tackling a chore that is difficult, not giving up, and completing it alone. Parents should advise children if they are taking on something above their capability.  We all derive pride and satisfaction from completing a task on our own that, in the beginning seemed overwhelming and difficult.  

The activity could be anything from schoolwork, a school project, learning to play an instrument, art, sports, or any number of activities.  Children need to be absorbed in the project, look forward to working on it, they may fail at part of it, but encourage them to keep trying, they will learn how to solve problems. Try to realize how you would have felt if your parents took away your sense of accomplishment by taking over. 


Do not step in and help.

This is hard for many parents.  When we see our children struggle, we have a natural instinct to rescue them and make the task easier.  This is NOT helpful, it is harmful.  Children will NOT feel that sense of accomplishment if anyone else, takes the struggle away from them.  Children will eventually resent this involvement.  It may come years later, but it will come.  Instead, be an encourager, let them know you have confidence in their ability.  This may be hard for parents to watch, but it will be rewarding to see them do it on their own.

I must say, this is where I see the majority of parents become weak and surrender to the pressures of their peers.  Parents want their children to receive the highest grades, to get the awards.  I understand that drive in parents. Be strong, do not give in, let them receive a “C” instead of an “A”.  The “C” they earned on their own is more valuable than the “A” earned by parents taking over.

Do not give material or monetary incentives.

Dan Kindlon puts it best in his book, Too Much of a Good Thing, “For parents of affluent children, incentives do not have to be material.  Money and toys often hold little incentive value for them.  They are like the lab rat who has just finished a large chunk or cheddar—a run in the maze is no longer that exciting a prospect.  Affluent parents must be able to give their children the ability to derive pleasure from the pursuit of nonmaterial incentives.”  This applies to nonaffluent parents and children as well.  Everyone, children, and adults need to learn to derive pleasure from hard work, with no material objects or money. Money does not buy happiness.

 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the   Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an   inheritance from the Lord as a reward.                                                                                                                                              Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)

Do not organize and schedule their lives.

All too often parents organize their children’s lives, not leaving anything for their children to organize.  As they grow up, they are unprepared to organize anything including their time, which is an important skill to have in college. Parents even organize the summer and after-school activities.  Some parents feel that if they, the parents do not do it, then it will not happen.  Then, maybe that is a good thing, children will learn from that if it becomes their responsibility. 

Sometimes we need to examine ourselves.

Many of our attitudes and beliefs we pass on to our children come from our culture.  Many parents are not willing to try something if they do not think they will be successful. Our culture teaches us winning is more important and more valued than working hard.  It also teaches us that if we are not winners then we are left behind.  This is not the teaching of the Bible or the best for our children.  

In Matthew when Jesus was asked who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he answered;

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “               Matthew 18:2-4(NIV)

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave —just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.                      Matthew 21: 26-28

Some Final Warnings.

Children need the brain stimulation that comes from work and accomplishment. Kindlon writes, “when children can’t derive pleasure from engagement, they will sometimes take drugs to stimulate the same brain centers as those that are stimulated during active engagement.”

Learning to deal with stress, frustration, and disappointment is part of growing up.  Allow your children to learn to handle these, because they will experience their share of all these as they grow.  


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