It is hard to watch your child fall, get hurt, struggle and make mistakes. It is hard to see them feel sad, scared or not good enough. A parent I work with recently said, “I need more bubble wrap.” She wanted to protect her kids by wrapping them in bubble wrap so they would not bruise or break. The wish was for bubble wrap to provide safe passage through the journey of childhood, adolescence and beyond. Today, many well-meaning parents are layering the bubble wrap in many areas of their children’s lives. They are hovering, doing things for children that they are capable of doing themselves, monitoring their every move, jumping in when their children experience conflict or adversity, giving praise and trophies not for excellence but for expected behavior or mere participation. In addition, they are rescuing their children from the natural consequences of their own behavior and putting a lot of time, money and effort in an attempt to ensure their child’s success. All of these parental behaviors are attempts to protect their children and foster self-esteem and happiness.
Unfortunately, their attempts are misguided. Not only is it impossible to protect our children but it is not in their best interest to be protected from the inevitable adversity in life. Children will get hurt both physically and emotionally. They might break a bone, be left out of a friendship gathering, they may struggle academically, they may forget their homework and receive an F or need to stay in for recess. Some children may even experience something tragic. Some, will experience uncomfortable consequences due to their own unkind behavior or not following the rules. Although these experiences are never wanted, they will likely happen. In most cases, they are valuable opportunities for children to learn about themselves. They learn that they can handle or manage life when it is very sad or uncomfortable.
When children get hurt, struggle or make mistakes, they need a soft place to land. They need time and space to feel, think, process and learn from the experience. Your family is the bubble wrap. The bubble wrap of family insulates children with love and acceptance. When parents allow children a safe space to express their pain, humiliation, and sadness as well as a space to figure out how to navigate and problem solve, it helps soften the inevitable challenges of life. When parents hold children accountable, they learn how to fail, struggle, try again and make good decisions. In this case, children are learning to take care of themselves—they are learning to be resilient. In essence, they are developing their own bubble wrap that can only occur with your love. Parents are not preventing the fall or hurt but they are preventing the damage that can come when children don’t develop the ability to bubble wrap and take care of themselves. For when children learn this, they have a valuable cushion for life. They come to realize their inner strength, find their voice, and know their resilience and self-competence. We need to shift from thinking we need to protect kids from all negative experiences to creating a family that provides love, support, calm, acceptance and guidance. This is the bubble wrap that children really need.
If your family could use a tune up in order to become a protective layer of bubble wrap, join us at our upcoming parenting class!
By Karen Jacobson, MA, LCPC, LMFT