How do we help children protect themselves?

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Adults widely think of children as helpless. They are so small, soft, and innocent. Only we can protect them. We buy the best stroller, car seat, helmet to make sure they are protected and safe. And when they do fall, we rush over to do what we can to keep them from feeling any pain. When they cry, we make all kinds of promises so they’ll stop. The thing is, ironically, they need to feel the pain. Why? So that they can stand up and try again.

That is truly protecting them - it’s helping them grow protective factors and skills. As they grow, they acquire more skills and assert themselves, and through it all, they learn how to deal. If their parents are constantly scooping them up before they have a chance to cry and go through their feelings, or buying them another toy the moment their favorite one breaks or is lost, they won’t know how to navigate the pain and distress - two things utterly unavoidable throughout life. It’s like the idea that instead of giving someone money, you give them a fishing lesson so they can feed themselves when you’re not around to help.

Instead of helping your child avoid the feelings, help them tread those waters. Sit with them through the process. Allow them to cry and then to calm down and comfort themselves and find that they’re actually OK at the end of it. They helped themselves. So when they fail an exam in 5th grade, they will go through the grief, realize what they did wrong and figure out how to try again on the next one. When their girlfriend dumps them at 17, they can be strong enough to cope instead of compromising themselves just to feel better. And they know that they will be OK. These early-acquired skills are essential to their ability to grow, move forward, do better and be happy.

So please - try to stop yourself from helping your child avoid pain. It’s hard, that’s for sure. As most parenting is. But as long as they know they are loved, that you believe in their ability to learn and do better and that you’ll always be there to talk them through it, they can take anything on. Anything.

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