A few months ago, one of my daughters was weeping and whining about a skinned knee. The lamenting continued until I proclaimed, “Seriously, I have clearly coddled you girls too much. Skinned knees are a part of life. You two have had so few that you don’t get that. From this point on, I will coddle you both less.”
And with that, I began to try my best to coddle less.
In truth, I don’t believe I changed much about my parenting skills. I promise I didn’t begin pushing them down to prove a point. Maybe it was a coincidence, but something changed. My daughters began to get skinned knees and shins and elbows much more often.
We went through more Band-Aids this summer than we’ve gone through in their lives. We weren’t living a rough and tumble lifestyle, but bumps and bruises, albeit (and thankfully) inconsequential, just kept a’ coming.
And with every tiny scratch, my daughters would thrust their elbow in my face and say, “You see this. This is because you’re not coddling us anymore.”
The litany of minor injuries became somewhat of a joke. Even still, both girls were making less and less of their scratches and scrapes. Even they would admit they were becoming, inch-by-inch, scratch-by-scratch, more resilient — and more confident.
While I wish for nothing but the best of health for my children — and yours too, for that matter, I am becoming more and more convinced that a little grit only adds to their potential for grace.
Grit and grace — that’s what we want for them. If everything in childhood is easy, when they become young adults, normal dilemmas and difficulties may set them back too far.
After marveling at my girls gaining in poise and self-assurance in the midst of a few scrapes and scratches, I heard a radio interview with author Paul Tough about his new book called How Children Succeed. Tough argues that the qualities that matter most in a child growing up and into success have less to do with intelligence and more to do with character — including skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism and self-control.
When our children make mistakes — and like all children, they do, my husband and I try to walk that line between teaching them the importance of making good choices, the value and necessity of consequences and the hope tomorrow offers.
Our discipline techniques go back to our family mantra, “Acknowledge and move on.” If we’re even mildly mentally healthy people, eventually we’re going to move on. Why not do it sooner rather than later?
Holding something over another person destroys relationships. The key is to embrace the “we can do better” attitude. We’ve learned our lesson. Our mistakes don’t define us.
Part of making the parent-child relationship work is about transparency. Our children have to know that consequences don’t happen because they told us something we wouldn’t want to hear. The consequences need to be directly linked to the problem — not the telling of the problem. And we want to build these kids up enough that they have the confidence to tell us things — even things they know we won’t want to hear.
Our prayer is that these scratches and mistakes remain small and manageable and continue to be the building blocks of stronger characters.
(Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears in the Sunday Advertiser. Email her at email@example.com.)