Building Happy, Healthy, Resilient Kids

Building Happy, Healthy, Resilient Kids

The question of how to build happy, healthy and successful kids is as old as time.  Unfortunately our children don’t come with instruction manuals.  We want to be great parents but don’t always find the right balance between structure and freedom; shielding our kids from life’s travails or having them face cold, hard, reality.  As we start a new academic year lets re-examine this age-old question.

In 2011 author Amy Chua re-energized the parenting debate in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.  Chua, an American mom of Chinese heritage, decided to bring up her daughters the Chinese way.  Further, she shared with the world the results of her “experiment” in parenting, warts and all.  Here are some of the hallmarks of her approach:

  • Parents select their children’s sports, hobbies and coursework, overriding their kids’ desires and preferences. Further, kids aren’t permitted to quit these parent-selected activities.

  • Kids usually don’t have play dates, sleepovers at friends’ homes, or have boyfriends/girlfriends while living under their parent’s roof.

  • Children should be achievement-oriented above all else.  Working toward a future goal is almost always encouraged over living in the moment.

  • Motivation techniques are as follows: When kids don’t perform up to parents’ standards they are subject to harsh criticism.  Parents are prone to compare their kids to their siblings or to other children in the face of sub-standard performance.

  • When kids disagree with their parents it is considered disrespectful, period.

  • Parents believe that bullying and harsh treatment from authority figures is part of life; kids must learn to deal with this fact on their own.

Every day I work with folks who parent the “American” way.  In many respects their approach, which is generally the opposite of Ms. Chua’s, works as follows:

  • Kids frequently select their own activities and when they lose interest in them are permitted to quit.

  • Kids are encouraged to have play dates, sleepovers and active social lives.

  • Parents are reluctant to criticize their kids about poor performance believing that doing so will hurt their children’s self-esteem.

  • In the interest of giving their children a right to their feelings and opinions, parents often allow their kids to speak and behave disrespectfully.

  • Moms and dads rescue their kids from any kind of teasing, bullying or harsh treatment.

My years of experience in coaching parents and families tell me that the best parenting approach lies somewhere between these two extremes:

  • Whenever possible kids should select their own hobbies and sports but must stick with these activities for some pre-determined period of time, like it or not.  Kids often have an intuition about what they will like and it’s helpful to enforce them figuring this out early in life.  They must also learn, however, to stick with the consequences of these choices.

  • Developing effective social skills is important if kids are to become happy and successful adults.  Social activities must be balanced with academic, athletic and other commitments, however.

  • Harshly criticizing the child isn’t motivating and can be damaging to his or her sense of self.  Constructively criticizing a child’s behavior or performance, however, can build resilience and ability, thereby enhance self-confidence.

  • It’s healthy for kids to express their thoughts and feelings when stated respectfully, both to adults and peers.

  • Parents should encourage their kids (as soon as they are developmentally able) to fight their own battles when teased or bullied.  Moms and dads should model effective self-advocacy and teach their kids to do the same.  Then parents should only step in when kids’ attempts to right the situation have been unsuccessful.

You won’t do a perfect job at parenting; none of us do.  If you keep in mind, however, the need to balance both age-appropriate structure with freedom, and protecting your kids from harm while encouraging them to fight their own battles, you’ll probably bring up healthy, happy and resilient kids.

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