The last of the 12 parenting mistakes is one that is very easy for parents to fall into. What does it mean to prepare the path for your child versus preparing your child for the path?
In his book, 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, author Tim Elmore says that preparing the path for a child is actually not helpful and when parents do it, they are selling their kids short. This week I will address #12 of a 12-part series on parenting mistakes. Here are the first 11:
- Mistake #1: Parents not letting their kids fail
- Mistake #2: Parents project their lives on their children
- Mistake #3: Putting too much emphasis on being happy
- Mistake #4: Inconsistency
- Mistake #5: Rescuing Children
- Mistake #6: Too Much Praise
- Mistake #7: Skipping the Struggl
- Mistake #8: Over-parenting
- Mistake #9: Praising the Wrong Things
- Mistake #10: Preventing all Pain
- Mistake #11: Being a Controlling Parent
Mistake #12: Preparing the Path for Child Instead of Preparing Your Child for the Path
When kids are little, parents do this a lot. We make it easy for our kids to reach the basketball rim, we hide in easy places for hide ‘n seek, and we give them head starts in races. In early childhood, this gives them a sense of confidence, but by the time they finish elementary school, this tactic will eventually backfire.
Why is that? Because kids will form unrealistic expectations of how easy life is and how much better they are than other kids.
Elmore explains it this way:
We fail to call out for the very best in them, assuming we must smooth the road and make things easy for them. When we do so, life feels good to them on the outside (it’s easier), but it doesn’t feel good on the inside (they don’t respect themselves). As they age, we actually make it harder for them to reach their potential. When we make this mistake, their childhood works fine, but their adulthood looks bleak.
Elmore lists the misconceptions parents have when they decide to prepare the path:
- They feel they win if they provide ease and comfort for their kids.
- They feel they win if their kids love and adore.
- They live in fear of upsetting their children.
- They feel they win if they can merely survive the day. Training and preparing kids is too hard to do at the end of a long day.
As parents, most of us know that preparing our kids for the path is more important than preparing the path for them, but it is so hard to watch them struggle. We know we shouldn’t make things easy, but we jump to the conclusion that smoothing the path makes their self-esteem stronger.
However, the honest truth is that confidence will be built not by compliments, but by providing your child with plenty of opportunities to learn new skills. Mastery, not praise is the true self-esteem builder.
Edward Hallowell, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness says:
It sounds counter-intuitive, but the best thing you can do for your child’s long-term happiness may be to stop trying to keep them happy in the short-term.
The other day I was watching Simone Biles, World Champion and Olympic Gymnast, on the balance beam. Such a precarious skill! How in the world did she master it?
I see parenting as a very precarious balancing act as well. Lean too far to one side and our kids become spoiled and entitled. Lean too far to the other side and they become fearful and insecure. The balance that parents must master is to be both strong and sensitive.
My dad used to say that parents should have an iron fist in a velvet glove. Velvet on the outside — accepting, loving, supportive. And iron on the inside — modeling values, defining boundaries and holding our kids accountable.
It may take practice for you to strike this balance, but it’s okay to start small. Big overnight change is not likely to last. If you are consistent in small steps, you can master this “balance beam” of parenting almost as well as Simone does.
Elmore explains that wise parents “inoculate” their kids. He uses the example of traveling to a developing nation that requires immunizations. The traveler gets inoculated, which actually means that a small dose of the disease is injected into the body so that the body builds up enough antibodies to fight off the disease when the traveler arrives in a foreign country.
This is a picture of what we must do for our kids. In order for them to face adversity well, we must introduce small doses of it early on. In order for them to possess the discipline necessary for hard work or stressful jobs, we must expose them to challenges in smaller amounts so they are ready to face larger ones when the time comes. In a sense, they build up antibodies. They become inwardly strong and prepared for what’s ahead.
That, my friends, is the parent’s job. That is preparing the child for the unknown path of life ahead.
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