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Parents should let children learn from their mistakes

The older one briefly played golf. And, it was more of a learning experience for me than him! I saw parents kicking the opponent’s ball, bribe the caddy to report wrong scores and more. It stopped only after the child got a medal.

Over the years I have seen an increasing number of parents switch between two roles — a helicopter and a snowplow, both with a malfunctioning moral compass. Rarely does one come across a tiger mom in the true sense of the word — watching from a distance, letting her children learn the ropes while she watches out for mortal danger.

Visit a school and you will find at least a couple of parents complaining about a teacher who penalised the child for not completing the homework or not picking their child for a dance or sports team.

 Parents should let children learn from their mistakes

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Some school students with learning disabilities were provided with scribes for examinations. As a result, other parents complained that those children could potentially end up scoring more than their own.

In rural areas, it is a different world. Children hop across rivers, climb trees and are out playing on off days, without their folks tracking them on the GPS or organising play dates. Scraped elbows are not frowned upon nor do moms help them carry firewood back from the forest.

Urban parents, on the other hand, spend considerable time and energy on making life smooth for their children. They work overtime to ensure that children have all the opportunities but with minimal struggle or emotional upheaval. The trend is disturbing. The effort is to make their lives happy, at all times, and sometimes at all costs.

But is it even possible? Failure, frustration, despair and stress are an essential part of life, a learning curve. By cushioning the fall, we are crippling them. As adults, these children will not be equipped to handle what life throws at them. The idea is not to take the stress away from the child’s life, but to teach them coping strategies. In these increasingly competitive times, parents need to sit the children down and teach them to see their success as their own, independent of someone else’s failure.

We need to pause for a minute and think back to our times. Did our parents help us with holiday homework? Why do we or our children queue up outside neighbourhood stationery shops to pick store-made projects the day before schools reopen? Why are we not letting the child face the consequences?

Also read: 'Making life easy for kids is a response to the world we live in'

Every now and then, I get requests from parents to give a certificate to their child for community work without them lifting a finger. This might score them a few points in the admission process, but do we care to think what it is teaching the child? In a rush to make it all easy, we end up telling children that all is fair, the line between right and wrong is blurred and can be completely ignored if it suits the purpose.

It is perfectly fine to watch out for one’s children, but to take away their struggles is a big disservice to them. We are taking their future away. By making their lives easier, we are making sure that they have no idea what to do when the going gets tough and the parents are not there. Would you and I be following them to their offices? Their relationships? The rejections they face? Can we prevent all falls? In fact, should we even try that?

A growing body of research points out that children who are over-protected and have parents constantly making things easier and “solving” their problems, are less equipped to deal with stress and exhibit lower levels of perseverance. We are taking their coping skills away. In our bid to give them a financially-secure future, we are depriving them of essential survival skills.

It is not easy to step back. We instinctively reach for the baby when she wobbles while taking her first steps. But, we never pick her up to help her walk. We encourage her to take another step, we hug her when she falls but egg her on. The same applies at all other times. Children are still taking baby steps towards the future. Our job is not to make sure that the road is smooth but just to be there to hold their hand, if they need us.

Children do not need us to do their homework or bribe their way to a school or a college, a better hostel room or a place in the drama team. They do not need us to make life a smooth sail. All they need is room to learn, fall, get up while we stand with them.

(Dr Tanu Shree Singh is a professor of psychology and author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On)

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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2019 14:43:42 IST

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