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The Perfect Childhood Isn't So Good

It’s official – the perfect childhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Now you can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Helicopters parents who micromanage their kids lives are so keen on creating the ideal childhood that, ironically, their children aren’t experiencing the natural ups and downs of life. It turns out that in our efforts to protect our kids from adversity and make them happy, we’re actually preventing them from experiencing setbacks that help them develop.

Don’t we all learn from disappointment? Think back to your childhood. Surely, there were times you didn’t get what you want, your feelings were hurt, or you failed at something. Those are all experiences that helped build your character, right?

Judsen Culbreth writes in the latest issue of Reader’s Digest about the damage that overpraising and overprotecting can do to our children’s sense of self.

“Kids can’t nourish their true identities or feel good about their accomplishments if we feed them junk praise that bloats their egos and leaves them hungry for real self-awareness,” writes Culbreth.

 The other day, my 5-year-old daughter, Ruby, showed me her latest artwork. “Do you like it?” she asked. “It’s good, but I’ve liked other paintings you’ve done better,” I responded. She seemed surprised that I didn’t gush, but then she got back to work and created a mini-masterpiece.

Instead of automatically praising, why not actually tell kids the truth? No need to be cruel about it, but it won’t hurt them to hear you tell them to go back to the drawing board and try harder.

We’re so afraid that our kids’ feelings will be hurt that we protect them in other arenas as well — at school and on playdates.

For instance, recently, a friend’s kid felt left out because she wasn’t invited to a birthday party. The mom quickly phoned the birthday boy’s party and explained the situation. Could her daughter please attend the party? The parent extended a belated invitation. But what message does this send to my friend’s daughter? If you don’t get what you wanted, I’ll make things alright for you? What happened to telling our kids “No?”

When a parent swoops in to save the day, kids don’t get the chance to learn how to take care of their own problems.

“There’s a universal human need to master tasks on one’s own, a drive to excel,” says says Laura Berk, distinguished professor of psychology at Illinois State University and author of Awakening Children’s Minds.  “When parents overstep the boundaries, they risk trampling natural self-motivation,” she adds.

There are some things it’s almost impossible to teach kids. That’s why they have to learn it themselves. So next time you’re tempted to make things perfect for your children, keep in mind that kids don’t need perfect. They need your support and guidance as they figure things out on their own. Less than perfect is sometimes ideal.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edalorzo/

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