When helping isn’t helpful

My daughter learned to ride her bike earlier this year, but now that the weather is warming up she is really riding it.  I no longer wonder if she has mastered the sense of balance to keep moving; she is flying down the street seemingly as fast as her 6 year old legs can propel her.  As I was watching her last weekend I began to wonder when her newfound love for two-wheeled speed will result in a skinned knee or scraped hand, it is a rite of passage, right?  Didn’t we all fall off the bike, get some TLC from the parents (maybe a band aid or two), and eventually get back on the bike?  I certainly don’t wish injury on my little girl, but I can’t help feeling that these small, uncomfortable life experiences are a valuable part of growing and learning how to pick yourself up and get back on the horse (or bike) when things don’t go your way.

After a conversation with a few teachers on campus recently I came across a great article (http://goo.gl/TO5MQ3) that tie in with both my role as a parent of two elementary school aged children and my job as a principal of a school of developing young leaders.  This article discusses seven ways that our behaviors can keep a child from growing into a leader.  I won’t go into an entire article review, but there were a few that really hit home.

We rescue too quicklyand by doing so we don’t allow our children to sort through the normal hardships that are part and parcel to growing up, be that riding a bike or getting homework turned in on time.  The author calls this “parenting for the short term” where our actions may soothe an upset child now, but when perpetuated will rob them of experiences they need when they grow into independent adults.

We rave too easily and this may be connected to the popularly discussed, self-esteem focused “trophy generation”.  The article makes an interesting point, that eventually a young person may pick up on that fact that the praise their parents heap upon them doesn’t jive with the feedback of the real world.  I’m all for encouragement, we need to make sure our children feel the pride of growing and getting closer to a goal, however when it results in a young person appearing on American Idol, in tears, shocked that they can’t carry a note, I have to suspect that people weren’t always honest in their feedback.

Jim Fay, the co-founder of Love and Logic, had a similar perspective on this topic (http://goo.gl/RnHK5Z).  He explains that many parents today are “obsessed with creating a perfect image for their kids; a life in which their kids never have to face struggle, inconvenience, discomfort, or disappointment.”  Jim is right.  We aren’t doing our children favors when act in this way and we shouldn’t mistake short term conveniences for the long term impact.

Both articles offer a number of different strategies for holding children accountable for the benefit of long term success.  For now I believe the best we can do is help our students stretch, struggle and possibly fall down, and ensure they have what it takes to get back up and keep moving forward.  Holding our students to high standards is not being mean, not doing so would be doing them a disservice.  Let’s continue to begin with the end in mind and do what is right for our kids today, so they will continue to grow into the leaders of tomorrow.

As we bid farewell to the 2013-2014 school year and look forward to the excitement next year will bring us I hope you enjoy your summer.  I plan on chasing my daughter around the neighborhood on her bike with a band aid or two in my pocket 🙂

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