Are you stressing your kid? I really hope so! Stress breeds resilience, pride, tenacity and self-belief. All great attributes to have in a child.
So, why do we shelter them from stress so much? Why do we wrap them in cotton wool and not let them play outside? Why do we do their assignments for them and argue with their teachers when they get a poor exam result because of their laziness?
Parents will say, "I don't want my kids to stress, they have enough stress at school, and I want to protect them and make them happy." It's a parents job to protect them from harm, sure. But, it's not a parent's job to shield them from stress. You need stress to grow. The problem is the type of stress and how we are taught to deal with it. More about that later.
It was evolutionary to protect your kids, especially in times when stress involved being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger -- in that case, protect away. Today, the threats are New Brain generated stressors. Most of them are 'what if...' stresses that are no longer a threat to life and limb.
We have to set the example and show our kids that difficult things are a challenge worth pursuing. We have to teach them how to handle stress while keeping our shit together.
If you asked a parent in the '50s, the '60s or mine in the '70s, "what's the most important job of a parent?" Their answer would have been, "to provide for them and to raise a good person". Valid answer, still today, we all want to raise a good person with high morals, solid values and a healthy work ethic.
But, are we parenting in a way that will make this happen?
If you asked most parents today what they want for their kids, the most common answer is "to be happy". The problem arises from how you go about creating a good person and a happy person.
The '50s answer involved teaching the child right from wrong. Teaching them that responsibility, tenacity and work ethic are essential to get anywhere in life. Parents set the example, and kids were made to work for everything they received.
This taught the child the need for 'delayed gratification', to work for what they want and that things don't happen because they want them to. The pride generated from earning money to buy a new bike is a lot greater than the satisfaction from being given a new bike.
Today, kids often (not always) get a new iPhone because there is a new iPhone. No work was required to earn it and no pride was generated from working and saving to achieve their goal.
'Pride from contribution' is hugely important and I think our modern way of parenting with its 'instant gratification' loses sight of this.
There has been a lot of talk recently about millennials being entitled. I think they need some stress! They need to work for an a***hole boss who treats them like s**t. They need to work out their own way to get to football practice (push bike). They need to have the stress of possibly failing a subject to ensure they do the work to pass.
Stress happens in life, and we need to learn the skills of how to deal with it. If we have been sheltered from confrontation, protected from possible failure and never allowed to take a risk in childhood, it would appear obvious that these stresses would be overwhelming as a young adult experiencing them for the first time.
We all want our kids to be happy, but when we try and parent with happiness as an end goal, I think we come unstuck. Happiness has got to be a byproduct of doing good things, not a destination.
We need to teach kids to embrace stress and enjoy things that are difficult. There will always be a fork in the stress road; one path sees stress as a threat and treats it as something to be avoided and decreased.
Unfortunately, avoiding stress limits your opportunities for growth and creates demotivated, anxious, depressed underachievers. Half of all mental health disorders start by age 14. Obviously, too many kids are treating stress as a threat.
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What's the alternative? The other path is where stress is seen as a challenge. When stress is a challenge, children will embrace difficult things with determination, and the pride generated from overcoming obstacles will form the basis of self-worth and future tenacity. Even failure becomes a way to learn and grow.
So, how do we do this as parents?
We have to set the example and show our kids that difficult things are a challenge worth pursuing. We have to teach them how to handle stress while keeping our shit together. We have to show them we love and trust them enough to allow them to sort out their own issues. This is not to say that we don't help them, we do, it just means not fixing everything for them.
Our job as parents is to set the example and lead our kids to make their own way in life. We are not there to tell them everything and fix every problem.
I think we need to find the happy medium between the parents of the '50s and '60s, and the way we parent today. One where kids are safe and loved, but where they are responsible for their own happiness and will learn the lessons that stress will teach them.
We need to teach them to get better at stress.