A few months ago, my daughter dislocated her elbow badly and ended up in the emergency department of the local hospital.
As soon as the ambulance arrived, the officers could see the pain she was in and gave her something up her nose to reduce it. She relaxed in a couple of seconds. Ten minutes into the trip, she was again suffering from the pain of her arm and so the Ambos pulled out the magic spray and gave her some more. Sheer relief came over her face.
When we got to the hospital, the nurses hooked my daughter up to an IV drip for pain relief. After the doctor performed his procedure to put her arm back into place, he asked her the pain level from 1 to 10 again giving her more pain relief. The ambulance drivers and nurses were so tender and delicate with her and her arm, it was arresting to witness the grace and care they gave her. That is their job. Their job is to ensure their patients are comfortable and pain free.
As I was watching in awe of the medical staff, I couldn’t help but make the connection between what happens in the emergency department of the hospital and the real world. Their job is to make the patient as comfortable as possible. Their job is to reduce the pain level from high to low. It is to fix the patient so they are comfortable again.
As I took this idea on board over the next few weeks, I kept on seeing instances everywhere of parents doing the same thing for their children. Parents were ‘fixing’ and solving the problems for their children so they didn’t have to ‘suffer any pain’. They were almost asking what their level of pain was on a scale of 1 to 10 and then pulling out all stops to ‘fix’ it.
A little girl I know wanted a new bike. She already had a perfectly good bike but it didn’t have a cool seat and a basket like all her friends had and she desperately wanted a bike like that to carry her dolls around. Her bike was fine and would have lasted a long time. However, her parents went out and bought her a new bike with a cool seat and basket to make sure she fitted in with her friends and because that is what she wanted. After a while, the basket broke and the little girl cried and cried, so the dad went to the shop to buy a new basket. They didn’t have any left at the shop and the dad was fearful of the reaction the little girl would have when he arrived home with no basket.
We all know this example. A boy is in a 7-Eleven with his mum and asks for an ice cream. The little boy has already had a lollypop, cupcake and something else sweet today and the mum says no to the little boy. The little boy throws himself to the ground protesting that his mum has said no and screaming the shop down. So the mum tells the little boy to stand up, choose an ice cream and gives it to him to stop the crying.
I had a conversation with a school principal a few weeks ago about raising resilient kids (my favourite subject!) and we talked about parents ‘rescuing’ their kids at every turn. He gave an example of when one of the students in Year 8 didn’t do their homework for a week and ended up in detention to complete it. He had a call from the boys mother to say how wrong it was that he had to go to detention, as he didn’t get around to doing his homework that week with no plausible excuse.
I was talking to the local gymnastics instructor and she was relaying story after story of children no longer wanting or being able to climb, flip and tumble. Their parents had told them not to climb trees, get off that wall, stop flipping on the bar at the shops, don’t cartwheel on the dirty grass, be careful on the trampolines, so often that they were now risk adverse when they had to do all these natural things kids do – especially when in the gymnastics class.
A family I worked with was horrified with their child’s anger issues when he couldn’t cope with disappointment. He was disappointed he didn’t get in the right sports team, when he didn’t get the right coloured pencil in class, when he didn’t have the best shoes in the class, when he couldn’t have a sleep over with his friend. When we got talking about their expectations around disappointment, it was clear they were coming to the rescue trying to fix every little time the child didn’t get what he wanted or hurt himself. It was mostly in the form of offering an alternative or ‘band aiding’ the issue with something else.
Getting kids to bed. Getting kids in the bath. Feeding kids. They have all become a struggle and we sometimes err on the side of making sure our child is ‘comfortable’ before we do ensure these basic things are met. ‘OK then, if you don’t want to have a bath or go to bed right now, you don’t have too.’
I could go on and on with examples. When I look at my own parenting, I am sure I am guilty of doing this for my kids at times because that is the society we are raising our kids in. It is no longer OK for a child to cry because they don’t get their own way as people are watching or listening. It is no longer OK for parents to say no to their kids when they want something because they may be financially better off their their parents were and so can afford to buy new clothes at every turn or new shoes. It is frowned upon when kids get upset and fight because we should all live the colourful, happy life we see on other people’s Instagram feeds.
The reality is kids need to feel disappointment. Kids need to be angry. Kids need to be exposed to calculated risk. Kids need to hurt themselves when they are getting off the swing. Kids need to wait to get something. They need all of this to be able to develop their OWN strategies to learn to fix their own problems.
If we are always running in and making it comfortable for our kids, they are never going to be able to solve problems on their own. They will struggle to cope when it is time to be independent. They will struggle when they go to high school on their own and don’t have you there to fix the problem, not to mention university, building relationships and beyond.
Life is meant to be up and down. It is the normal rhythm of how things work. The Pastor and CEO of the Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s King Cross, Rev. Graham Long repeatedly says that if a person always lives their life in the up they have the impulse of an addict and if they always live their lives in the down they are depressed. ‘Human life is lived in the natural cycle of up and down’.
It is our job as parents to ensure our children have the strategies to move from the down to the up with problems, with emotions and with relationships. To ensure they have this, we need to step back and let our kids experience difficulties. We need to allow them to climb trees, run down hills (just not too fast) and buy the paper for us at the local shop. We need to give them the chance to experience a ‘real’ life, not a comfortable life. We need to let them argue with their brother and sister sometimes to learn about navigating relationships. We need to set the boundaries, routines and expectations for our kids.
We need to make sure we are not the IV drip that my daughter received in the emergency department offering our kids pain relief from the life that is ahead of them and ensuring they are prepared socially, emotionally, academically and financially.
Anna Partridge is a School Teacher, Student Welfare Officer, Writer and Mother to 3 kids. She is passionate about working with children and families to raise confident, resilient and emotionally intelligent children. Read articles like this one at http://www.annapartridge.com Twitter: @_positiveparent Facebook: @positiveparenting