There are as many different ways to raise children as there are parents and kids but some styles are definitely less effective than others.
Too permissive or outrightly neglectful child rearing are obviously problematic but research shows too-close supervision can be almost as detrimental to children’s development.
Interestingly, this holds true not just for human parents but for canine carers as well.
A study on guide dog training released this week, shows that overprotective canine mothers produce less capable offspring as measured by guide dog training completion rates.
The researchers attributed the dogs’ handicap to their mothers’ propensity to shield them from adversity in the first few weeks of life. Over-zealous protectiveness inhibited the development of resilience in puppies with lifelong temperamental consequences.
“It seems that puppies need to learn how to deal with small challenges at this early age and, if they don’t, it hurts them later,” lead researcher Emily Bray said in a University of Pennsylvania media statement.
“A hypothesis might be that you have to provide your offspring with minor obstacles that they can overcome for them to succeed later in life because, as we know, life as an adult involves obstacles,” said Bray’s co-researcher, Robert Seyfarth.
Indeed. A growing body of opinion sees overcoming failure in childhood as integral to long-term success.
In The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go so Their Children Can Succeed, US teacher and author Jessica Lahey cautions, “today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation.”
To counter our modern tendency to coddling, Lahey offered these words of parenting wisdom to Psychology Today readers:
- Failure helps children learn about themselves…and they will recover
- Be patient and trust in your kids
- Remember that when we say “Let me do that for you,” we are telling our kids we don’t think they are capable
- Let kids make mistakes that test their abilities. This is a good thing that will strengthen learning and teach them how to be resilient
- Remember that intelligence is malleable. The harder kids work to overcome challenges, the smarter they become
- The children of parents who support autonomy are more competent and resilient in the face of frustration, so give kids space to work through temporary setbacks
- Kids who pursue their own goals are far more likely to meet those goals and stick with activities for the long haul
Experts agree that allowing children to make and learn from their own mistakes is of primary importance but knowing exactly when — and how far — to let go can be difficult to judge.
An “authoritative” parenting style that tempers discipline and clear expectations with warmth and acceptance is generally considered to be the approach most conducive to raising resilient and successful kids. It is also the most closely associated with good academic results.
As children move into the later stages of adolescence, it’s important to allow them greater autonomy but within the framework of “a secure and predictable environment”, says Andrew Martin, professor of education psychology at UNSW.
Some parents may be reluctant to pull back at this stage, fearing the worst; but it’s a normal and necessary part of helping them grow up, Dr Martin says.
“Undoubtedly, they will push and exceed the boundaries, but that and its consequences are part of the development of their identity and understanding the social ‘norms’ to which they will be held to account in adulthood.”
To help parents find the right balance between strictures and structure, Trinity Grammar offers this excellent advice:
Don’t be tempted to do everything for your child because it’s quicker, they need to gain some independence from a young age, so even a pre-schooler can be encouraged to do things on their own, like dress themselves. For older children and teens, resist the urge to solve their problems and protect them from disappointment – they will learn much more from making mistakes and considering the consequences of their actions. Demonstrate your belief in your child’s abilities to boost their self-esteem and confidence.
Maintain stable and loving relationships
This applies to relationships between parents, children, other family members and with the Church. Ensuring a child experiences secure relationships based on respect, trust and love shapes the way they manage relationships for the rest of their lives. If they experience conflict being managed in a respectful way, children in turn will learn to manage conflict in a passive rather than aggressive manner. If you apologise to your child for a wrongdoing, they learn the importance of acknowledging mistakes and considering the feelings of others.
Be there for your children
It is easy to get bogged down in the routine of daily life and chores that need our attention. Regularly put aside some of those tasks and make a point of spending time with your children and simply having fun. This will strengthen your relationship and is rewarding for both you and your child. Properly engage with your children, whether it be through play or really listening to what they have to say.
Set clear rules
Children crave boundaries and need clear rules for behaviour. Try to avoid making threats you do not plan to carry out and instead be consistent and ensure you and your partner provide a united front to avoid confusion for children. Although the equilibrium can sometimes be difficult to maintain, parents must balance empathy and support with structure and clear expectations.
Be a good role model
We can try to teach our children morals and values by talking about it, but children learn far more from the behaviours of their role models. Try to be the person you want your child to be, whether that be patient, loving, trustworthy, respectful or all of these things. For example, if you demonstrate sensitivity, your child will develop empathy for others.
You teach your children many life lessons through the simple act of loving them. They learn when you show them affection, play with them, provide encouragement and advice, and offer them security. By remaining steady, being attentive and listening to your children, they become self-confident with higher self-esteem. Praise them where it is due and try to avoid comparing siblings to each other.
Children of “tiger parents” develop more aggression and depression, research shows — Stephen Smith, CBS News, June 20, 2013
7 crippling parenting behaviours that keep children from growing into leaders — Kathy Caprino, Forbes, January 16, 2014
Helicopter parenting bad for kids: study — AFP, NewsMax, June 2, 2015
Successful guide dogs have “tough love” moms, Penn study finds — Michele Berger, Katherine Unger Baillie, Penn News, August 7, 2017
How allowing children to fail helps them to succeed — Susan Newman, Psychology Today, August 11, 2015
How to maintain the balance between boundaries and freedom in secondary school parenting — Andrew Martin, The Conversation, July 13, 2017
Celebrating parents and six tips for effective parenting — Trinity Grammar website