Parenting should get easier over time, not harder. Your role should be to gradually work yourself out of a job.
By Daisy Turnbull Brown
Being told to parent your child less sounds pretty good. That is exactly what multiple authors are now telling us: that today’s kids are less resilient, less able to self-regulate, less respectful and carry less responsibilities – all because of overparenting. Judith Locke argues that this has led to hyper-responsive parenting, which in turn makes very few demands on our kids. This hugely impacts a child’s ability to develop key skills that they need to be successful adults.
Jonathan Haidt argues that we are not giving children the chance to play outside. He notes that today’s children on average only first play outside unsupervised from the age of 10 to 12, where for us it was more like five or six. This is in a time where society is by all accounts safer than it ever has been. What began as legitimate safety concerns in the 1990s has led to a situation where even if parents intellectually supported free play, no one wants to be the first parent to let their kid bike ride to the grocery store and buy some milk, lest they are judged.
Haidt also argues that children are not given the opportunity to take risks, which means they have very little understanding of their own safety, and can often take too great a risk, or too few risks, as adults. He calls this the “myth of fragility” and instead argues that failing in life, whether it’s on the monkey bars or on the jungle gym, will make us stronger, not weaker. Haidt says this myth has led to the rise of university students requiring “safe spaces” because they can’t regulate their own safety.
As a director of positive psychology, my family often has to put up with me “testing” interventions on them. We practise gratitude activities at dinner. We have a character strength we work on each week – this week it’s leadership. We finish every sentence that starts with “I can’t” with “yet”, generally followed up with “well, you couldn’t read last year and look at you now!” So I am trying to figure out what I can actually do at home to parent less and give my children more space to try, fail and grow from it.
Be less responsive
It can be very easy to drop everything if you hear your child call out your name. You know the difference between “Muuuum can I have an apple” and “I FELL DOWN THE STAIRS”.
Do you notice yourself getting up and going to wherever your child is when they call, when in fact their legs are just as strong as yours? Be a bit less responsive.
I tried this the other day. Alice (three) had picked up a toy guitar and conveniently placed it on the kitchen floor before walking into another room and asking me to play with her. A combination of demanding (asking her to put the guitar away first) and a decrease of responsiveness (not walking into the room until she had done so) meant she ended up finding something else to do.
By being less responsive, children become more resourceful. That’s a good thing.