Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Don't do anything for a child...

...that he can do for himself."

Prof Hendricks
Before "Helicopter Parents" and "Cuisinart parenting" intruded into children's development, Professor Howard Hendricks was telling us, "Don't do anything for a child that he can do for himself."

New college students have the lowest level of emotional health in twenty-five years according to a recent study by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute.  While economic factors may affect them, this is the same group of students who often grew up with "Helicopter Parents" (hovering over all parts of their lives) and, as John Rosemond calls them, "Cuisinart Parents" (who have blended their lives with their children in all of the details which includes micromanagement and enabling.)  It is no wonder if these students feel like they can't live their lives and become overwhelmed when so much has been done for them.  Many have learned to be helpless.

"Learned Helplessness" is a state where one feels he or she does not have adequate control over surroundings and gives up.  These children learn that they can't (why else would mom and dad do everything for them?) and they don't learn skills and develop confidence to enter life's frays.

This is the state of a "lost heart," that Paul warns us about in Colossians 3:21:  "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart."  Why try when you don't think you can or it is has always been done for you?  And, how do you face life in college or alone when you never learned how because it was done for you?

Let's give our children bigger boxes of life to handle year by year.  Let's only intervene in problems if they will harm our children, remembering that working out problems and facing fears usually helps them grow rather than harms them.  Support and train, but don't do.  Or, we rob their learning and courage. 

In the mid-seventies, Martin Seligman said that we can change learned helplessness by replacing it with "learned optimism," a shift in mindset from lost heart to braveheart.  Our children can face life with optimism by doing it in increasingly large chunks while at home and by developing the skills and courage they need along the way.  They shift from learned helplessness to learned optimism if they know we support them and that we believe in them enough to let them face real life without hand holding and speaking for them.

"Prof" Hendricks, a leader in education and family, told us decades ago to not do anything for our children that they can do for themselves.  Still timely and powerful advice today.

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