Shelter Your Kids AT THEIR PERIL!!! (And Happy New Year)

Hi Readers and Happy New Year! Feel like posting a Free-Range Resolution? Go ahead! Inspire us all!

Meantime, this article on the site Scientific Blogging is a little long, but it’s a good one to start the year on. (And thank you, GreenDadsBlog, for sending it.) It boils down to a truth many of us suspected: When we try to shelter our kids from all stress — the stress of disappointment, difficulty, confusion, pain, regret — we’re not doing them any favors. As the author, Andrea Kuszewski, says:

Parents may feel that by preventing their child from encountering any and all potential hardship they are helping to preserve their emotional well-being, but going through a little stress and encouraging them to cope with it effectively will benefit them far more when it comes to being a more resilient, independent, and emotionally stable adult.

God knows, the world could use some more of those! So remember (the article continues):

…not all stress is bad. Even as children, being faced with challenging situations is a good thing. We learn to problem-solve, think for ourselves, and build resilience to protect us from harm in future unexpected events. As an added bonus, dealing with stress early on helps us to develop emotional stability as well. You can’t buffer your child from every non-happy moment in his life, so at least take comfort in the fact that while he is suffering in the short term, he is enhancing his well-being in the long term.

That being said, here’s wishing a challenge and stress-filled New Year to you and yours! (Punctuated by long furloughs of great joy.) — Lenore

17 Responses

  1. This — Lenore’s excerpt; didn’t read the article — reminds me of the idea of “good enough parenting.” Parents don’t need to be perfect but good enough, which allows kids to gradually experience the idea that others in the world don’t endlessly serve them (or something like that – google ‘good enough mother’ and you’ll get the whole idea).

    PS the NYPL still hasn’t gotten Free Range Kids. NYC free-rangers, please ask your branch libraries to purchase it or go to ‘recommend a book’ at: http://www.nypl.org/books/suggest.cfm

  2. So true, Lenore. I’ve seen what happens when children are sheltered from every disappointment. They grow up, go to college and become completely incapable of dealing even with minor setbacks, let alone bad grades, car accidents, the inability to find a job.

    I’ve long said that you’re raising your kids to leave you. It’s in their best interest to teach them how to deal with life’s disappointments before they’re on their own.

    Thanks for the great blgo, as always, and happy new year!

  3. We’ve had an interesting experience this year with our child. Up to now, we’ve always been able to afford any lesson, instruction or activity she wanted to try, but the economy made the last year challenging. So when she asked for guitar lessons we said, “no.”

    instead, I gave her an old guitar I had in the basement. She’s now taught herself how to play and she sounds incredible.

  4. I am a recovering helicopter parent (coming in for a landing?) and received your book for Christmas. I have already read the whole thing and feel so much better. This post makes me feel even better. The pressure of always trying to do the EXACT right thing for my kids all the time was exhausting. In truth, I have two normal high energy boys that need to be able to explore the world and I need to relax. Thank you for this site, for your book and for spreading such a positive message.

  5. Happy New Year! We’re moving and in a couple of weeks will be about 5 blocks from our elementary school. We are going to grant our 10-year-old son’s fondest wish and spring him from the after-school program, allowing him to walk home alone after his clubs and get home about an hour before we do. I balked until I remembered that at 10 I often walked more than a mile (just Mapquested it) home from my middle school – and my parents might or might not be there. He and his sister will be joining the crew that walks to school every morning, too. Free Range in Lexington, KY!

  6. I remember the moment of clarity I had when I realized that my children were old enough that it wasn’t my job anymore to stop their crying. When they were babies and toddlers, crying meant that they needed something from me or was an indicator that I should do something differently. They got a little older and the light went on one day that they cry now sometimes from disappointment or perhaps anger or frustration (frequently after a punishment has been given). In those instances, it’s not my job to make the crying go away, and that they would learn vital lessons if I didn’t interfere.

    I’m still there to say I understand that they are upset, hope they feel better and offer and shoulder to cry on, but it’s not the best thing to make whatever made them upset go away.

  7. I always liked how one of my college professors put it. You aren’t raising children; you’re raising adults.

  8. It’s lovely to see some science behind the idea you should be supporting your children’s efforts to do things – not stopping them from having a go. I’m amazed by how many parents and even childcare proffesionals will step in to pick my children up the moment they stumble. Much better let them first try to pick themselves up and offer ideas and advice. Even as babies they cry out of frustration but go on to turn over/reach that toy/clamber over the pillow.

    Achievable but challenging goals are what we all need to help us not only build resilience but also get satisfaction out of life.

  9. this is the purpose of classic fairytales and the three act structure of classical storytelling. It is understood bt psychologists that children experience fear through the story and learn lessons for how to resolve those feelings. It is a healthy catharsis and good for the development of character, not something that should be homogenized out of children’s books.

  10. @ Stephanie

    That’s something I’ve said too. The end goal is an adult. An emotionally healthy, self-sufficient, competent adult. Heaven forbid we raise nothing but really tall children.

  11. I’m cringing and laughing at the “really tall children” comment by gramomster! I started back to college last year at age 42, and attend a very nice suburban school where I am surrounded by 19 & 20 somethings that have been/are being sheltered entirely too much, in my opinion.
    During a few different casual conversations a couple of them expressed shock that I allow my high school junior to attend a school in the middle of the “big city” and that she takes public transportation to get there and home. I must be a criminal that I allow my middle schooler to arrive home with her younger brother and be alone for *gasp* 30 minutes once or twice a week! Apparently, these rather entitled young people were ferried to and fro by overindulgent parents and self sufficiency is not a blip on their radar.
    Sorry for the rant – and thanks for reading!

  12. Eleven years ago, at one of my 3 separate baby showers (thrown at the insistance of my hostesses), during which I received an embarrassingly-large pile of gifts from 48 families spread across 3 continents, a woman I barely knew handed me a small package and said, “This is the most important shower gift you will ever receive.”

    She could not have been more correct – it was a copy of “Children: The Challenge” by Rudolph Dreikurs. First published 46 years ago, this book is THE ORIGINAL free range manifesto. It was not explicitly themed or marketed as such because, back then, the free-range physical environment was taken for granted! So rather than dealing with mechanics, logistics, or statistics, it reveals the heart and soul of the philosophy by which children are raised to be maximally independent. It explores more about the WHY than the HOW, and for good reason: if parents don’t comprehend the WHY, they’ll never be able to muster the HOW.

    It is the ONLY parenting book I have ever read – I threw all the others out. I used to buy as many “pre-owned” copies as I could through internet re-sellers and hand them out to friends and associates as if I were the parental equivalent of a Hare Krishna.🙂

    Everything new is actually old: there is nothing within the scientific article that Lenore references in today’s post that was not said – and said more effectively – by Dreikurs 46 years ago. Check him out – I bet you won’t regret it.

  13. At my kids’ preschool, their grades consist on a series of “goals” the little ones have been working on during the last trimester. The grades are not A’s, B’s or C’s, but “exceeds expectations”, “goal achieved” or “in process”. I especially liked the goal “Knows how to win and lose”. It comes right after the “Understands the rules and plays by them” one. Don’t you have something like that over there?

  14. Kuszewski’s comment that “not all stress is bad” reminded me of a passage from the excellent book, “The Art of Raising a Puppy” by The Monks of New Skete. The monks–thoughtful, skillful and observant dog-raisers and trainers–found it beneficial to subject the very young puppies to stress, as it would lead to more confident puppies and dogs. In that case they would begin at nearly day one by briefly raising the pup (high off the floor, though you might not want to use that technique with a middle schooler.)

    Reading Lenore’s book reminded me that I rode a Rochester, NY city bus to and from school all of 7th and 8th grade, to a school in an okay but not stellar neighborhood. I didn’t love doing that (who loves riding a city bus every day?), but it didn’t seem like a Big Deal, that I recall.

  15. I completely agree however I understand it will be difficult to watch my child(ren) have to deal with these stressful situations when the arise. I was just contemplating a similar topic tonight as I was looking at a photo of my family completely focused on our daughter. I hope I can figure out ways to lead her to be independent even though she has adoring relatives surrounding her often.

  16. Alecia,
    Assuming you don’t have relatives that overstep bounds, and extended family can help encourage independence. I grew up in a very large extended family.

    My parents knew that when I went to the mall or other places I had this huge safety net, so they felt more comfortable letting me go. I remember facing down some bullies at the mall. When they backed down and left, I turned around and walked away with my friends. We walked past a store and 2 of my Dad’s cousins stepped out and said, “You did a good job there.” They had been watching the exchange from the store. If things had gone badly (These bullies had beaten me up at school, to the point I needed to see a doctor), My cousins would have stepped in to protect us. They saw we were handling it and let us take care fo the situations.

    A couple of times younger cousins called me to be picked up from parties. We weren’t hiding anything from their parents they just couldn’t get hold of them. In each case the parent called me later to thank me.

    When I went through my teens both slightly older cousins and my grandparents were sounding boards, when I didn’t feel like I could talk to my parents. They let me know point blank when I was being unreasonable. Somehow it was easier to hear from them than my parents.

    The key to this was all our parents were basically on the same page a one family was stricter and some a little looser but all in the same ball park.

    The only big drawback was going to HS at a school where my Dad’s cousins had been the biggest hellraisers a few years before. More than a few eyebrows were raised by staff when they figured out who my cousins were.

  17. Reading this I’m extra glad we just took our 18-month-old daughter on a tough hike up a mountain in South Africa (in a hiking backpack, which she called the ‘cuddle on’). She did get a bit stressed out when there were some tough corners where we were basically having to climb between some rocks, but she was also reassured when we were done with those bits, and once we got to the top, she looked around and said ‘Wow!’

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