My wife informed me the other day that at the preschool our son attends the teachers will no longer use the term “time out” when a child is punished. Apparently, the phrase is no longer acceptable. An offending child is instead sent away for “thinking time.”
Hmmm, I thought. Maybe the person who came up with that rule needs a few more minutes of thinking time. I mean, really. How far are we going to go as we try to soften and protect our children from every possible word, phrase or situation that MIGHT hurt them physically or merely hurt their feelings? It feels to me that we’re turning our kids into fragile children who will grow up to be incurably tender, risk-resistant, adventure-phobic people.
There are real threats that result from micromanaging each moment and interaction of our children’s lives, dictating their behavior and enveloping them in what we believe is a loving cocoon but could just as well be a harmful, suffocating embrace that stifles their ability to problem solve and gain much-needed and life-affirming confidence.
It’s my belief that this hyper-obsessive need to protect and shield our children from life’s ills, while providing for their every whim and desire emanates from a good place. We want our children to have a good start in life. We want them to be happy and successful. We want them to have all the joys and none of the sadness that life doles out. But by working so hard to minimize their suffering, we are merely delaying it. Life will teach them these difficult lessons repeatedly, whether we want it to or not.
It reminds me of a story that my aunt once told me about how she was having a difficult time disciplining her children when they were little. She loved them so much and didn’t want to hurt them. She knew that she needed to punish them but it was challenging for her. She told me that her pediatrician provided her the following beautiful piece of wisdom:
“Either you discipline your children or the world will.”
That put it into perspective for her and, years later, it put into perspective for me, too.
We owe it to our kids to discipline them. If we truly love our kids we won’t stand in the way of them having their hearts broken or experiencing failure. When I applied to colleges and got rejected it felt like shit. I felt less than. But the experience taught me two important lessons: 1). That I needed to try harder to reach my goals, and 2). to problem solve. I needed to know what my backup plan was going to be and I needed to think about Plan B in conjunction with Plan A.
Our natural inclination is to pick up our children when they fall down, to soothe their wounds and dry their tears. We’re loving and involved parents and we want our children to know that we will protect them and we also want to know that we are needed. But sometimes the best decision when our children fall is to stand by and watch how they respond. Do they get back up without our help? Do they brush themselves off and continue on their journey? Do they succeed in reaching their destination? Yes, maybe it took a longer, more circuitous route. Yes, maybe it’s not the route that we would have taken. But they made it. And you helped them by doing making a choice to do nothing.
We must try to gently break this tea cup generation. It is our responsibility as parents to know when to reach in to help and when to give our kids the space to rise and fall on their own.