Most moms and dads will do just about anything to help their kids. I can personally attest to this, and I hear about it regularly in my office. A nurturing and protective instinct for their young is built into the DNA of most living creatures -- just observe a dog with her newborn pups.
One of the things that distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom, however, is our ability to reason. Unfortunately, this gift doesn't always serve us well when it comes to parenting our kids. Whereas animals know how and when to push their young out of the nest, our ability to rationalize our behavior tempts us to protect our kids in some unhealthy ways.
Protecting our children from danger, especially when they are young, is normal and healthy. But shielding our kids from failure at any cost is a problem. Parents frequently say to me: "Life is hard enough as it is; why wouldn't I want to protect my kids from the pain of failure?" On its face, this argument sounds logical. But it isn't. The tendency to protect our kids from the pain of failure is rooted in our own fears, and doesn't foster their healthy growth. In fact, it can lead to the development of entitled kids who lack both confidence and resilience.
In my work with teens, I see how their parents' well-intentioned over-protectiveness manifests itself:
These kids are hesitant to take on new challenges for fear of failure.
They are afraid of change and lack effective skills for coping with them.
When their efforts don't meet with quick success, they either quit or wait for rescue.
Their relationships with peers and authority figures are compromised by the fact that they can't accept failure.
They may be very driven to succeed, but find it hard to do so unless given explicit direction, and may be at a loss when left to their own devices.
They have difficulty thinking for themselves and tend to defer to what others think rather than rely on their own instincts.
They can be entitled and have trouble understanding the concept of "no."
If you believe you've been coddling your kids, it's rarely too late to turn the tide on your parenting approach. Here are some steps you can take now to help your kids develop greater resiliency in the face of risk and failure:
Apologize for having been overprotective. Explain why your approach was mistaken, if well-intentioned. Let them know that, because you love them, you'll be encouraging them to take reasonable risks and face the prospect of failure.
Model risk-taking behaviors yourself, demonstrate healthy coping skills and talk to them about the process.
Share examples of others who've succeeded as a result of facing failure head on.
Now here's the hard part: Actually begin to let your kids "skin their knees." In so doing, help them learn that they can survive failure and adversity, try again, and in so doing, develop greater emotional strength, flexibility and self-confidence.
A side benefit of these tactics is that they take some pressure off of you to constantly prop your kids up and protect them from failure and disappointment. Instead, when mistakes or failures occur, be available as a coach, consultant or cheerleader. Let your children know that you believe in them and in their ability to weather life's storms.