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The Positives of Negatives: When not to step in

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

Most people don’t aim too high and miss; they aim too low and hit.

~ Bob Moawad

“You’re out!” a boy hollered as he tapped a girl’s shoulder. Laughter permeated the air and children darted across the lawn. Jennifer’s[i] reaction was swift and unexpected: Her face twisted in anger; she screamed and stomped and refused to play anymore. The other children were confused. A moment ago she was having fun like everyone else. Why the sudden change?

Jennifer had always gotten her way, no matter what. Her mom gave into her every whim, from not brushing teeth (which led to Jennifer needing root canal surgery at age 4), to not wearing a seatbelt, to skipping homeschool lessons. Whatever she wanted, she got. Why should a game of tag be any different?

Her mom thought Jennifer would be happy if she got her way. Instead Jennifer’s confidence ebbed. She couldn’t control her emotions, gave up easily, and lacked self-discipline. Without some changes, these areas would only get worse.

David[i], 18, who grew up in a similar home, can attest to that. He quit college halfway through his first semester, overwhelmed by having to do tasks on his own, like homework and laundry. He moved back in with his parents where life was easier because, in his words, “Mom does everything for me.”

Well-meaning parents like those of Jennifer and David neglect to keep the end goal in mind— raising youngsters who have matured into well-adjusted adults. These parents reason that rescuing their children from the undesirables of “right now” will smooth their children’s path to success. In fact, it does the opposite.

A parent who rescues her child from experiencing negative emotions cripples the child’s ability to mature. Experiencing negative emotions is vital to one’s growth, explained Dr. Martin Seligman, psychologist and author of The Optimistic Child. Negative emotions motivate children to engage skills, change things for the better, and overcome helplessness.

“Children need to fail. They need to feel sad, anxious, and angry,” Seligman said. These emotions “are not mere inconveniences, but of crucial use in that each bears a message.

“Anxiety warns you that danger is around. Sadness informs you that a loss threatens. Anger alerts you that someone is trespassing on your domain. [The accompanying pain] goads you to act and remove the threat,” he said.

Research shows youngsters whose parents regularly rescue them become low achievers, make poor decisions, are more prone to delinquency, are more aggressive, are less empathetic, and can’t manage their time or habits, said Kendra Cherry, author and psychosocial rehabilitation specialist.

These children also “struggle with personal motivation. They often feel like they are drifting in a vast cloud of random opportunities. There is no way for them to set clear goals [or] boundaries because they never really had any while growing up,” according to the Health Research Funding website. “This outcome creates a circumstance for some kids where they feel like nobody cares about them because there were no guidelines set for them in the first place.”

Homeschoolers can unknowingly fall into the rescue trap by giving their students all the answers. After all, it’s quicker than waiting for the child to look up the answer on his own and it can prevent pushback from an uncooperative pupil. But it doesn’t lend itself to the child’s growth.

Instead, purposefully foster independence. Avoid the temptation to become your child’s personal encyclopedia. The more she does on her own, the more she will gain a sense of accomplishment. Rather than dishing out answers, encourage her to stick with a problem a little longer. For example, guide her to the next step in solving a math equation. Have her write down her own ideas for an English essay. Give her time to hunt through her history book for answers to review questions.

Here are some more ideas to guide your child toward progress:

* Create structure. Boundaries make children feel secure. Establish a family and homeschool routine so your child knows what’s expected of him.

* Be consistent. Stick to what you say you’ll do. And make sure to follow through with the consequences you establish.

* Don’t hide from negative emotions. Talk about emotions openly without accusations. Help your child recognize how she feels and what caused the feeling.

* Involve your child in the solution. Ask him questions when he faces a problem. What could he do to solve it?

Realize that negatives pose opportunities for your child to work through issues and gain positives: greater confidence, self-control, maturity. If you step in, you rob your child of a potential accomplishment. Allowing him to do the work also allows him to claim the achievement as his own. And that becomes a building block toward his overall success.


[i] Names have been changed.

Photo Credit: <a href="">Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos</a> Flickr via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>


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