How do you raise emotionally healthy kids?
This is a question that many of our clients (and we as parents) ask ourselves as we strive to raise emotionally healthy kids and teenagers. Being a parent is a very difficult job. Many parents who I know really make a conscious effort to deal with their young child or teenager consciously and without reactivity. And, they have found that being a conscious parent is even more challenging then going through the motions. For a parent that considers how their actions affect their child and striving to do their best, self-reflection is a necessary component of conscious parenting.
In our CD program The Art and Science of Parenting we talk about the different roles that parents play without even realizing it. And one of the most harmful for children is the parental role of rescuer. Recently there was an article published about the actor Charlie Sheen. In the article, one of his coworkers had the following quote: “After years of suffering no consequences for his behavior, why would he think anything else? Finally it has sunk in that he doesn’t live by different rules to everyone else. Actions do have consequences.”
Despite the good intentions of a parent who has this rescuing behavior, continually rescuing your child from age-appropriate consequences (both good and bad) eventually comes back to harm the child -even as an adult.
Sadly this is true of many well-known athletes, entertainers, and politicians; but the concept is much more widespread than just these select, well-known few. Many parents have confused the two ideas. One is helping their child to succeed through mentoring and modeling for them. The second is rescuing them from normal developmental processes that are important to their ability to exist happily in the world in which they live.
Why do parents do this? One of the primary reasons is that they are uncomfortable with their own internal emotional process when they see their child in struggle. They may have associations that if the child “fails” in some action; that they become, as the child’s parents, “failures” in some way. Another contributing factor is that parents don’t want a child to experience anything but happy and pleasant moments. This does a child a serious disservice because life is not made up of all happy and pleasant moments. Life can be frustrating. Life can be sad. Life can be lonely. Life can be many different things. For a child to become emotionally balanced in their lives, they must learn to be able to deal with these emotions too. You don’t want to create the “drug addict” effect where a child is looking for their next “happy” fix.
We also stunt their developmental processes by always rescuing them. Let’s take the example of boredom. I have seen many parents become very uncomfortable upon hearing the words “I’m bored” uttered by their child. The parents then run to the bookstore, run to the TV, grab the latest technology, or stops what they’re doing to become the child’s entertainer. Does this seem balanced? Of course not. Yet when you are caught in the role of rescuer it becomes something you do that’s on automatic pilot.
Help your children to develop into emotionally healthy adults by allowing them to deal with frustrating, boring, and challenging situations. Children are already extremely creative. Keep an eye on the situations and check in with yourself to see if the child really does need help or experiencing a bit of struggle now will help them to develop the healthy emotional capabilities that they will need throughout their lives.
By: Don Nenninger