It’s normal for parents to question whether they are doing the right thing. Caregivers want to protect children from challenging situations, whether it’s a bully at school, struggles with school work, or a difficult boss at a teenager’s part-time job. But such challenges are a part of life. Every person experiences difficult situations, and either has to cope with something they cannot change, or take steps in problem-solving something that can be changed. Emotions such as sadness, anger, and fear are normal in challenging situations.
How children navigate those challenges is what makes the difference. Having caregivers who provide emotional support, encouragement, and who teach skills directly and through modeling (e.g., how to control emotions, and think through problems) is vital to children’s growth and well-being. Just like adults are not born “knowing” exactly what to do in every parenting situation, children also do not automatically “know” what to do when faced with a challenge. If that’s true, caregivers can’t do everything for them (and doing so might teach kids that they can’t handle things). Similarly, we can’t expect children to figure everything out on their own; that might give them the message that others don’t care. They need the right amount of guidance and independence to learn how to work through difficult moments. When children make a mistake in problem-solving, it is a learning opportunity that will help them build personal strength, and do better next time (particularly when they are in a caring environment that provides teaching without being overly critical).
Just like kids might make a mistake when trying to figure something out, parents can make mistakes, too. The good news is that those mistakes teach children that even adults sometimes need help in figuring out what to do. Children who have learned they can survive a difficult moment – who are resilient – won’t be focused on their parents’ mistakes, but rather the fact that family members are there for each other and can learn to problem-solve together.