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  • Writer's pictureLaura LaRocca

How to drop the worry ball and help your children succeed

Letting our kids fall—and fail—may be better for them in the long run, writes Laura LaRocca

Soccer ball on grass


It’s a big bad world out there and, as parents, our job is to clear the way so our children never get hurt and nothing bad happens to them.


…Or is it?


Dr. Alex Russell, a clinical psychologist and author of Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement suggests that letting our kids fall—and fail—may be better for them in the long run and can help them develop into healthy, capable, independent and resilient adults.


“Kids develop resiliency because they have to,” he writes. They become resilient not by constantly succeeding, but through what he calls non-catastrophic failures, such as scraping their knees, getting cut from a team, or failing a test. These failures hurt, and they also teach valuable lessons and life skills. Children learn to cope with setbacks and how to overcome them.


When parents constantly hover over their children—over their homework, play time, and decisions—we send the message that they can’t handle things on their own. Our children can become disengaged with school and sports, or they can become overachievers to try to please us.


“The irony is that modern, obligated parents who work so hard to nurture emotionally healthy children are actually raising kids who are delayed in their development, kids who increasingly lack the resilience to take on life’s problems,” Dr. Russell writes.


He suggests taking a mindful park-bench approach. It’s what many of us do when our children are small. We take them to the park and let them play despite the risks (like falling), while we sit on the bench and offer occasional encouragement. By doing this, we teach them that they are capable and we believe in them. When they fall, we reassure them that they’re OK, and they learn that falling in pursuit of reaching great heights (in this case, the top of the monkey bars) hurts but is not the end of the world.


We can do the same thing as they grow older—but many of us don’t. Even though they are more capable, we don’t just scope out the park for danger and let them take the lead. We wake them in the morning, even our teens (or maybe especially our teens), and make sure they get up. We run forgotten lunches or homework to school. We review and sign agendas, jump in to help with homework, and nag about studying for tests.


What if we stopped—if we, as Dr. Russell suggests, drop the worry ball?


The kids will pick it up. At first, they might run out the door without breakfast, or get late marks because they forgot their homework, or bomb a test or two, but they’ll figure it out. Things may get worse before they get better, Dr. Russell warns, but they will get better if, instead of over-parenting, we offer our children the loving support and guidance they need to take responsibility for themselves.


In the end, which children will be more ready for adulthood: the ones who only made it through school because we prodded them every step of the way, or the ones who learned that falling while pursuing great heights isn’t the end of the world?


 

Laura LaRocca was previously the coordinator at Dufferin Parent Support Network. If you have questions regarding this article, email us at info@parentsupportnetwork.ca


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