A Healthy Dose of Neglect

“The measure of a good parent is what he is willing to not do for his child.”

Dr. Haim Ginott

 

Whenever I talk with parents, I inevitably hear, “Why are kids today so spoiled? Don’t they think of anyone but themselves? Why don’t they show any gratitude?” Of course these statements don’t represent all children all of the time. Some kids are doing incredible things to better the world and are showing strong signs of being very responsible. But still, the overall view of many parents today is that this generation is less appreciative than previous ones.

What might account for this change of behavior in children? Given the unlikelihood of a sudden genetic shift, perhaps adults have to examine their parenting approach to find the reason for this change. What messages, directly or indirectly, are they sending to children?

 

Teaching Responsibility

From the time their children are little, most parents try to make their youngsters’ lives easy. In the past, children were expected to contribute to the functioning of the family. Today, the opposite is true – people often have children with the expectation that they will “work” for their offspring. You may take them from sports practice to dance class to music lessons, buy them the newest and greatest toys, or research the best pre-schools, the most popular books, and the most exciting activities. You want what is “best” for your children. Driving them to yet another program or friend’s house is “no problem.” Reminders to do homework or to practice instruments are just part of your job description. Is your child up too late doing homework? That’s okay; you’ll take out the trash at night and make his bed in the morning. “Oh, by the way,” you ask, “Can I help you with your work? You need your down time.” Are you overdoing for your children and then finding yourself getting resentful and wondering why they can’t do for themselves?

Everyone needs help once in a while and certainly your children are no exception. But if you find yourself repeatedly “saving” them or bailing them out after their mistakes or poor planning, perhaps it is time to take a look in the mirror. Ironically, your attempts to help your children may actually contribute to their lack of responsibility. What are you trying to protect them from anyway?

 

Taking a Step Back

By experiencing the natural consequences of their actions, children learn about the world around them and how it works. They also discover that they have control over many aspects of their lives, and they can avoid negative consequences by changing their behavior. Children can and will grow from their mistakes. So when they forget their library book, they learn that they can’t take out a new one. If they forget their lunch, they will be hungry or have to figure out a way to borrow money or ask for help. These stressful moments are opportunities to build character. You are actually doing your children a service by not doing things for them and not coming to their rescue. This is not to say that you should completely abandon your children to let them deal with the challenges of life all by themselves; rather, you offer support and encouragement as your children struggle to find their own answers. Overcoming adversity on their own or learning to tolerate frustration makes them more competent, more resilient, and more interesting.

Often the good intentions that lead you to try to “help” your children come at a cost: reducing resiliency, self-esteem, confidence, and tolerance for discomfort. Perhaps, as noted child psychiatrist Haim Ginott suggests, in order to encourage your children to become more responsible and capable, you should give them a dose of “healthy neglect.”

By Deb Cohen, Certified Parenting Educator
 

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For more information about children and chores, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

How Much is Enough? by Jean Illsley Clarke Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso  Pick Up Your Socks by Elizabeth Crary

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