Wednesday 24 April 2019

Children need more backbone - let them fight their own battles

'We do everything for our children. We fight their battles with their friends. We go to the teachers and fight their battles in the classroom if there is a problem, however minor. If our children don't get picked for a team, we ask the coaches why' Photo: Depositphotos
'We do everything for our children. We fight their battles with their friends. We go to the teachers and fight their battles in the classroom if there is a problem, however minor. If our children don't get picked for a team, we ask the coaches why' Photo: Depositphotos
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Research has shown that one-third of us have fallen out with a friend because we've taken our child's side in an argument, or because we've voiced concern or criticism about a friend's parenting style.

The research showed that arguments over children resulted in anything from an 'uncomfortable atmosphere' to 19pc of people stating they stopped talking to their friend altogether. Some 9pc said they simply never talked about the incident again after it had occurred.

The issue of whether or not to discipline or 'tell off' another parent's child is a tricky one.

Two-thirds of parents polled said that they felt comfortable doing so but 'only if necessary' and over half didn't feel comfortable as they didn't want it to cause a problem in their friendship.

There's a very thin line between giving an opinion and criticising, and all parents are more sensitive and protective when it comes to their own children.

So what do you do if your friend's child thumps your child in front of you?

No one wants to tell off someone else's kid - ideally we want the other parent to intervene, tell their child to behave themselves and say sorry. But what should you do if that doesn't happen?

We all want our children to know that we'll stick up for them but disciplining someone else's child is treading on very dangerous ground.

"We can't always do what's best when our emotions take over and it's perfectly natural to slip into fight mode when we want to protect our child," says child psychologist Laverne Antrobus.

"In this situation I've often found myself just removing my child and then sitting down with them to talk about what happened. If they really don't want to leave, that's a good indication that they are robust enough to handle things themselves."

According to Joyce Marter, a US psychotherapist, intervening in your child's battles can actually backfire - and affect their development.

"If we fight our kids' battles we are unintentionally communicating that we do not believe they are capable themselves," Marter says. "Through these battles, kids learn how to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts, which not only improves their self-esteem, but also helps them feel empowered."

Parents today are teaching their children to become more parent-dependent than independent.

The terms 'over-parenting' and 'helicopter-parenting' describe something most modern parents are guilty of.

We do everything for our children. We fight their battles with their friends. We go to the teachers and fight their battles in the classroom if there is a problem, however minor. If our children don't get picked for a team, we ask the coaches why.

A good friend of mine, who is a teacher, told me that the biggest change she's seen, since becoming a teacher 20 years ago, is the attitude of the parents.

"They're so much more assertive and at times aggressive," she says. "Managing them and their, often unreasonable, expectations is a minefield."

By being over-protective we are teaching our children that Mum and Dad will solve all of their problems. We are not teaching them to solve the problem themselves. We should be encouraging them to handle their own situations and trust that they can sort out schoolyard problems like we did.

If your child comes home crying because of an argument with their best friend or because someone pushed them over in the yard, it is important to empathise and offer emotional support but not to get involved.

Also, as parents we need to remember that children embellish and often dramatise stories so we should probably ask a few probing questions before picking up the phone to rip the head off the other child's parents.

My own seven-year-old came home recently with a story of being shoved over but when I asked her more about it, it turned out she wasn't quite the innocent victim she was claiming to be.

It's normal, kids will argue. We need to accept it and let our little ones learn how to fend for themselves.

Obviously, when it comes to bullying, parents often do need to step in - but if it's just arguing in the yard, they should let their little darlings fight their own battles and build up the backbone they'll need for life.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss