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As parents, many of us feel driven to help our children become more successful than we are. The story is as old as time. Our parents felt that way. So did their parents. Today’s parents focus on children’s achievement starting at birth, wanting kids to experience success in every endeavor — and to feel good about themselves.
“That’s not a bad thing, but we can’t live their lives,” says Deb Lonzer, MD, Chair of Community Pediatrics for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. “We had our chance. Now we have to let them have their chance.” Hovering like helicopters to make sure our kids don’t repeat our mistakes or suffer any regrets is a sign of hyperparenting — being overly protective and involved.
Small failures are nothing to fear
Dr. Lonzer says that children need to learn from the natural consequences of their actions starting at age 3.
Although parents must keep kids safely away from the stove, gas line and toxic cleaners, “let them fall down, let them get cuts and bruises, let them make mistakes,” says Dr. Lonzer. “Let them learn what it means to have small failures.”
Failure can be a good thing for children by allowing them to think about what didn’t work and why, and to come up with a better plan for next time. “Childhood is for preparation, not performance,” she says.
As far as academics are concerned, a failing grade represents a learning opportunity as well. “The grade doesn’t matter — the effort does,” says Dr. Lonzer. “You have to stop doing their homework at some point, and if they get an F, they get an F. You want them to enjoy learning for the purpose of learning.”
The generation gap
In previous generations, children were considered adults when they reached the age of 18 or 21. They were expected to leave home and make their own way in the world — at college, in the military or in the workforce.
“Today, we have kids who think it’s normal to live with their parents until they’re 27 or 28, so we have prolonged adolescence until almost 30,” says Dr. Lonzer. “We have kids who have never failed because there’s always been that safety net.”
The bottom line is that most kids turn out fine — even those who have made some mistakes along the way — so parents needn't worry. “You’re probably gonna have happy, healthy kids if your heart’s in the right place,” says Dr. Lonzer.