Helicopter, Free-Range, or Something in Between?

The debate rages on…Should parents micromanage their children’s lives to ensure their health, success, and well
being? Or is it better to take a more hands-off approach and let children learn life lessons through their own experiences?  What is the right balance of parental involvement?

Just as every child is different, every parent is different. There is no one-size-fits-all philosophy that guarantees happiness, health, safety, or success. But let me suggest that in all my 45 years as a teacher, as a parent, and as a grandparent, I have repeatedly seen that children learn better, and faster, when they experience the natural consequences of their choices and understand what leads to better outcomes in the future.  Of course, there are some limits. If their health and/or safety are at risk, parents should intervene.

If a student chooses not to study for a test, a poor grade might be just the wake-up call that was needed. If a student “forgets” to complete a homework assignment, perhaps eating lunch with the teacher (and not with friends in the lunchroom) while completing the assignment will dramatically improve his memory moving forward.  Such consequences teach children that they are responsible for their choices, and the resulting consequences are within their control.

As difficult as it may be to watch your child struggle with the consequences of a bad choice, the experience is invaluable. Think back to many of the lessons you learned as a child…chances are you learned them the hard way. These formative lessons, once learned, become part of the foundation for a stronger, smarter, more resilient individual. These are also very personal lessons that are best learned by personal experience.

In my years working with parents, I have tried to incorporate the emotional growth of their child into our talks about learning and development. It is just as important for a school to teach students about emotional intelligence as it is to teach them about academics…sometimes, even more important.  They must experience failure if they are to understand that they also have the resiliency to rebound from it.

It is important for students to take responsibility for their actions.  School gives students an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.  I often tell told parents that learning from mistakes, learning how to cope with problems, dealing with a teacher head on….these are all good ways for children to develop.  It may be painful for you to observe, but in the long run, it will benefit the growth of your child. Children learn by trial and error. Children need to struggle to see that it is a part of life, and clearly a part of learning. We must teach them that struggle is positive. It makes us stronger. When we jump in too quickly, we not only deprive children of the chance to grow, but may be sending the message that we lack confidence in their ability to manage the struggle on their own.

For more information:

Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ  by Daniel Goleman

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character  by Paul Tough

Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope, and Optimism in Your Child by Robert Brooks, PhD and Goldstein, PhD