Why It’s Good to Let Bad Things Happen to Kids

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There’s an important upside to letting your child handle upsetting situations on his or her own. (Photo: iStock)

It used to be that when a child experienced hurt feelings — classmates called her names, for example, or she didn’t make the soccer team — she was expected to deal with the situation mostly on her own.

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Sure parents were there to lean on for support and advice. But moms and dads didn’t intervene when it came to the normal slings and arrows of growing up.

Yet these days, increasing numbers of moms and dads are stepping into their kids’ lives — confronting school officials, coaches, even their children’s classmates — to fight the battles that kids themselves were once left to handle.

“In the school where I work, some parents will deal directly with a kid who they think harmed their child, or they’ll contact school officials if their child gets a bad grade and criticize them for hiring the child’s teacher,” Thomas Winterman, a school counselor and clinical mental health counselor in Panama City, Florida, tells Yahoo Parenting.

“It comes from a good place; all parents want to protect their kids,” says Winterman. “But interfering can backfire, because it prevents kids from learning to solve problems on their own and becoming independent adults.”

Many counselors and psychologists agree. “Other than loving a child, a parent’s job is to help prepare a child to navigate the ups and downs that will occur in life,” Sharon Silver, founder of Proactive Parenting, tells Yahoo Parenting. “The best way to do that is to allow them to learn the life and emotional skills needed to master life events.”

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What’s driving all this parental over-involvement? Part of it has to do with online connectivity, says Winterman. Even the busiest parent can email the school principal and demand that a bad grade be changed. Plus, kids’ social media feeds give parents a lot more insight into what’s going on in their children’s lives than parents ever had before.

A parent’s instinctual need to be a hero to his or her child also plays a role. “It feels good as a parent to help your kid and solve their issues,” says Winterman. But a child’s need to learn to deal with bad things on his or her own should outweigh a parent’s need to be needed.

“Parents are their children’s teachers,” Jeannette Sawyer Cohen, Ph.D., a New York–based clinical psychologist, tells Yahoo Parenting. “If you always swoop in and save the day, you prevent your child from figuring out a way to solve or get over the problem.”

The best thing way to handle kid dilemmas? Step back — but don’t step out, says Winterman. Instead of taking charge of the situation, ask her how she thinks she should handle it, and let her weigh what to do.

“Parents should provide their child with the information that tells him or her how to emotionally navigate thorough the disappointment, then stand back and let them choose how to move on and cope with the event,” says Silver.

If the situation escalates — say name-calling becomes serious bullying — then it’s time to step in. “This way, you’re a safety net for when a situation gets out of hand,” says Winterman.

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