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Let Your Child Practice

How to protect them and make them strong

“Children change the moment parents change their perspective on parenting.”

– Victoria Prooday, Occupational Therapist

I wanted to take a moment to share the parenting message I gave our parents at the Belt Promotion Ceremony Saturday.

At these ceremonies, I like to reward those attending with a gift - a powerful parenting lesson they can put to use. I like to make them very short, powerful, specific and easy to apply.

Here is what I said to them:

“Protect your children from danger . . . but do NOT protect them from fear, hardship, failure and boredom!”

Every time children are protected from these “good” stresses they get emotionally weaker. Every time they get scared, have to struggle, do hard things, fail or have to figure something out on their own they get STRONGERemotionally.

So just shift your perspective. Yes, protect them from dangers like getting hit crossing the street, drowning while swimming and touching a hot pan on a stove. But if you want an emotionally strong child you must learn to stop protecting them from fear, hardship, failure and boredom. Here is why:

Fear: Courage can only be developed in the presence of fear. Frequent exposure to small doses of fear increases confidence and courage. Just imagine a child who rarely has to do scary things. One who is rescued or shielded all the time. Life is filled with things that scare you. Some things are big and some things are small. Anxiety develops when we become scared of all the small everyday things we really do not need to fear. My favorite saying is “Scared is wetting your pants. Courage is doing things with wet pants.” Let your child get scared often. It is good for them. Let your child practice!

Hardship: This one is easy. How do you learn the habit of hard work and perseverance? You have to learn to do things you do not want to do! I cannot tell you how many times a new young parent will ask me – “Sensei, should I make my child do something they do not want to do?” I have to hold back a little because my answer is “YES, and as often as you can!” I will make this one short. Start making your child do things they do not want to do starting as young as you can. Let your child practice!

Failure: I love the saying “Let them eat dirt and skin their knees!” One of the greatest good stresses and life lessons is failure. You want your child to struggle and fail often. It is not about big failures, it is about the small ones. Let them struggle to tie their own shoes or karate belts. Let them struggle learning a sport or with a friendship. Don’t rescue them! What do you think you get when you have a teenager who has rarely failed? Failure teaches persistence and a growth mindset. Let your child practice!

Boredom: In today’s world, boredom is the easiest thing to protect our children from. Look for ways to make your child deal with boredom. Make them just sit in a car. Make them just sit when you are eating dinner out or at home. Just give them a box and two rocks to play with instead of that tablet. Boredom develops independence, and even more importantly, the skill of resourcefulness. Make your child bored often. Let your child practice!

Here is one additional tip which might help you with this “protection” parenting perspective change – Learn to shift your “role” as a parent. The difficulty most parents have is they fail to shift their role of being a “caregiver” to that of a “coach”. Think about it. When human babies are first born, someone has to do everything for them for them to survive. Unfortunately, many well intended parents never leave this role. You will have a very difficult time “letting your child practice” if you cannot leave this caregiver role.

Stop being their caregiver and begin to become their coach.

Think about it from a sports perspective. Just imagine a child joining a football team but the overprotective young coach packages them up in protective gear, never lets them get dirty, never lets them play on the field unless it is sunny and dry, doesn’t let any contact occur, carries and kicks the ball for them, makes it so they only have to play or practice when they want to, only has them watch training videos, tells them they are all awesome, places everyone on the starting team, then gives every child a trophy. What happens when they have to make the high school team?

Shift your role from caregiver to coach . . . then let your child practice!

At the end of the ceremony I told each child to look into their parents eyes and repeat this after me: “Mom and Dad, I do not need you to protect me from fear, hardship, failure or boredom any more. I am stronger than you think I am!”

Let your child practice! Yours for stronger kids, Sensei

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