One Skinned Knee at a Time

In our last newsletter, we responded to an interesting NY Times article, "Fast Tracking to Kindergarten," and talked about how to step back from the anxieties we feel as parents to make sure we are "doing enough" for our children. The same day we issued our newsletter, out came the Atlantic Weekly article “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” which argues that doing too much can be just as bad, if not worse, as doing too little. This article has created quite a buzz among my friendship circles and various online forums - leaving many people with more questions than answers. “Is she saying being attuned to our children's emotions, and being involved in their lives, activities and school life is suddenly not what we are supposed to be doing?” “Is she arguing against helping children build conflict-resolution skills?” “I thought giving choices built self esteem - now the research finds it creates anxiety?” Well, here's a little Early Childhood Matters perspective...

We believe that being emotionally attuned and involved, helping children with conflict-resolution skills, and offering choices are all definitely good things.  But what I think author Lori Gottlieb is trying to say is that too much of any good thing (including choices) can be detrimental, and with that I have to wholeheartedly agree.  Gottlieb is identifying the problem with "pendulum-swing parenting" - one generation tries to do things differently than the last and instead of using new understandings of social science and emotional intelligence and making adjustments accordingly, we do what seems to make sense - the complete opposite of what our parents did!  

From the article, and from my experience working with hundreds of children and families over the years, I recognize two trends which can limit a child’s ability to learn to cope with disappointment, and ultimately (as more and more Universities are noticing) life! 

The first is the hovering parent - one who swoops in so fast and protects so much that children don’t have the opportunity to experience pain or frustration. This parent inhibits the child from learning that they can get through frustration, or overcome hurdles, by taking reasonable risks to build up their sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.  This parent holds the child back from solving problems because they are always solved before the child has a chance to even think about solving alone.

The second is the parent who struggles to set limits, i.e., “Sure you can have that toy today,( even though you have 12 just like it at home)", or “Ok, even though we really have to leave now, you can stay for another 5 minutes.”  With this approach the child does not learn what disappointment feels like, let alone how to get over it.  We often say in our classes that teaching children to cope with disappointment, in the safety of their most caring and nurturing relationships, should be among our top goals as parents.  As the article says, just like physical immunity we must build up our child’s emotional immunity and resilience.  And believe it or not, this starts now; even at 12-36 months, one lovingly navigated tantrum and skinned knee at a time!  

Come learn more about finding that delicate balance between setting limits and encouraging freedom, and more skills for building up your child’s emotional resilience at local Early Childhood Matters classes, workshops and playgroups.

-Rebecca Walsh