Believing in the “Beauty of Benign Neglect” by Jen Hamilton, Middle School Counselor

I recently read an article in Psychology Today called “Lessons for Living:  Five surprising principles for living, loving, and playing well with others” by Elizabeth Svobada.  It offered a great deal of wonderful advice, but one piece in particular really jumped out at me. Lesson #2 on the list, “The Beauty of Benign Neglect,” asserts that over-parenting can be extremely harmful in that it robs our children of opportunities to become resilient and self-sufficient.  As the mother of three young children, I truly understand how difficult it can be not to try to smooth out hurt feelings, offer solutions to tricky problems, or even suggest corrections to be made on homework assignments.  It is so painful to see our children struggling.  Yet without the struggle and the opportunity to problem-solve, kids cannot develop a sense of competence.  And there is nothing like competence to foster true confidence in our children.
Reinforcing this point, Dr. Joann Deak came to Nobles recently to talk with students, faculty, and parents about brain development and the importance of ‘stretching’ oneself during the adolescent years. One of Dr. Deak’s assertions is that making mistakes offers an incredible opportunity for our brains to learn deeply.  In analyzing what we did wrong, rethinking our approach, and trying again (and again, and again!) we are able to develop and grow in amazing ways.  During adolescence, brains are elastic and have the ability to increase neurotransmitters in response to this kind of exercise.  So not only is making mistakes essential in terms of building confidence; it also, quite literally, can make our kids smarter!!  Again, this got me to thinking:  If we rob our kids of the opportunity to make mistakes by paving the way for them or being a little too helpful in solving their problems, we are denying them a real opportunity for growth. Sometimes the best way to help is to step back and allow our kids to help themselves.
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