Love The Right Way

How To Help Our Kids Become More Self-Sufficient And Confident

Mother hugging child

Break out the burn-in-your-mouth cinnamon hearts, it’s Valentine’s. 

What a good time to talk about how we show our children we love them.  Did you know there was a right way and a wrong way?  Great eh? More to worry about. Even something as primal as love we can’t seem to get right without the so-called experts weighing in on it. (oops – that’s me!) Well, hear me out and see what you think for yourself.

Since the middle of this century, we’ve had sufficient research to be definitive in warning parents about the harmful effects of coercive and punitive parenting approaches on a child’s budding self-esteem.  We proved that showing children our love by spanking them is one “wrong way”.   

But then some over-zealous experts made a rather profound leap in logic and instructed parents to avoid doing anything that makes their child sad, unhappy, or uncomfortable lest they diminish their child’s personal sense of worth.  Parents took that advice to heart, fearing they might wound their child’s fragile psyche and now they’re labeled as “helicopter moms” accused of raising “the bubble wrapped kid”.   Well, it turns out that this protecting style is also the “wrong way” of showing children our love. Damn eh? You can’t win for trying!!

I had a pretty good idea that the official backlash on soft parenting was in full force when I head that Katie Allison Granju, best selling author of  “Attachment Parenting” has just released a new book entitled “Let Them Run With Scissors - How Over Parenting Hurts Children, Parents and Society”.  Maybe we’re finally ready for moderation and a new kind of common sense.   Of course if you think this advice is coming too late, fear not – I am just releasing my new book “Honey, I Wrecked the Kids” that should help you do any damage repair you might now be worried about. 

So what exactly is good for their self-esteem?  How do we “love them the right way?” Let me offer my thoughts.

Self-esteem is just that; it’s about how our children feel about themselves.  As they face a world of new endeavors and challenges, they discover wonderful things about themselves.  “Hey look at me! I can tie my shoe.”  With each new struggle, each new skill, they discover they are capable and self-sufficient.  They feel proud of their accomplishments and grow a calming sense of security that they can manage all by themselves.   Their self-esteem grows as their competencies to function independently develop. 

Of course, inherent to that process is struggle.  That is what learning is all about.  Nobody gets it perfect right out of the gate.  There are lots of stumbles that must be experienced so our children learn to pick themselves up, brush themselves off and keep at it.

Yes, I know, it nearly kills you to watch your child suffer, be unhappy or uncomfortable, especially if you once believed that would hurt them.  I understand how the ill-informed uber-mom wants to jump in and rescue their child.  I know we ache to use our magical mommy powers to clear the hurdles, lower the bars and make it all better for them.  We actually ENJOY caring for them.  Being a caregiver is in our job description.  Frankly, it makes us feel important and needed.  Let's face it; we do have some selfish motives here to.

Well, I am begging you to consider sitting on those loving, helping hands. Developing a healthy self-esteem means our job as parents is to create a windscreen of sorts.  We need to stand between our children and life, presenting them continually with struggles.  These challenges should be ones that we as parents know that with effort and guidance they can indeed accomplish, but which they themselves are not yet sure they can.   Too hard of a struggle, our child gets discouraged. Too easy a task and it feels too effortless to feel proud about.   We have to find that sweet spot, and most parents vastly underestimate their child’s abilities.   Learning to find that sweet spot and ride it with them to adulthood is the best way to love your child.

Go to the next page for more on how to love our kids the right way!

Just think, learning to tie a shoe is the preschooler equivalent of scaling Mount Everest.  The glory of accomplishment is second to none.  How could we interfere with that?

So I beg you – stop doing up your children’s shoes for them and the gazillion other tasks you take over or micro-manage on their behalf.  If they cry and pout and carry on when you withdraw your services, don’t fret over those tears. Don’t pity them and rescue them from their problems and responsibilities.  When you do, you are sending them a vote of non-confidence and creating a dependency that undermines their ability to find happiness.

To show our love:

  Take time for training:  allow your child to develop and practice as many skills as they can.  Work in a stepwise progression.  For example, clothing competency and self-sufficiency begins with learning to dress themselves and choosing what clothes to wear.  By age 8 they can learn to do their own laundry. By the teen years they are ready to create a clothing allowance and shop for their wardrobe independently. 

  Never do for a child what they can do for themselves:  After you have taught them a skill of self-sufficiency, don’t step in and rescue ever again.  A 4 yr old knows how to put on, wear or carry their coat and knapsack.  Since it’s their responsibility, they should do it 100 % of the time.
  Encourage them by showing your faith and trust in them and by teaching them that mistakes are not bad, they are opportunities to learn!

Just think of all the challenges and struggles a child can conquer: 

  Managing the disappointment that only the birthday boy gets presents on his special day.
  Struggling to learn to fall asleep alone in your bed
  Facing the uncertainty of being put in a classroom without any of your friends from last year.
  Overcoming the fear of answering for themselves when an adult asks them a question like “would you like something to drink?”

So, for Valentine’s this year, why not try to show your love with some of these other lines instead:

“You would like us to believe you can’t (put on your own boots etc.) – but we think you can.”

“I’m confident you can straighten this out, but if you need any help from me you know where to find me.”

“I can understand how you might feel, but I am convinced you can handle it.”

“That is a tough problem, but I am convinced you’ll figure out a way.”

“Could you use a helping hand? It’s your job, but I am glad to be your helper”

“Would you be interested in learning a few good tricks?”

“Would a kiss help?”

“Do you have any idea how you might handle that?”

When we express our love in these ways, our children feel our love but also our high regard and respect for them.  We also help them love themselves. What a gift to give. Now when our child is faced with a new problem, they will say “I have a good person who can help me solve this problem – ME! ”

Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canadas leading parenting experts. She is the Ask an Expert for Todays Parent Magazine and the author of three best selling parenting books, including Honey, I Wrecked The Kids and Ain't Misbehavin'.