Children need to develop character

Posted by Samantha on March 21, 2011 in Thought for the day |

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

Helen Keller, US blind & deaf educator (1880 – 1968)

I really get the desire of a parent to spare a child from suffering.  When your child is in pain you really feel this deep need to take their pain away. 

But we’ve gone too far in our desire to protect children from any pain and suffering.  We have forgotten that a child cannot develop the kind of character that allows them to navigate life well, if they live a life of complete ease and comfort.

It is not your job to make sure that your child is always happy.  It is not your job to make sure that your child never experiences physical pain or childhood illness.  It is not your job to make sure that your child never experiences psychological anguish. 

Protecting children to this extent is not only not possible, it is not good parenting.

I know from experience how painful it is to watch your child in pain, especially when you’re the one who has caused the pain.  Just yesterday, I closed the car door on my child’s fingers.  It felt dreadful.  To sit with the mental anguish of actually causing your own child physical pain is not pleasant.  Nor, with my early conditioning, is it easy for me to simply provide comfort – and apologies – in this situation. 

“What did I tell you about climbing on that?”  “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times….”  “Too much laughing ends up crying”.

These are the unexamined reactions of parents who cannot stand the idea that they have not protected their child from pain.  Underlying these reactions are beliefs like: “My child should never experience pain” or “If my child is hurt then I am a bad parent”.

In these situations we can spare ourselves a lot of suffering if we keep in mind that it is in the fires of adversity that character is forged. 

We can reduce our feeling of powerlessness if we recognise that the injury has already happened and it was not our job to make sure it never happened in the first place. 

Yes, we are meant to keep our children safe.  But we must avoid turning this truth into the impossible idea that they will NEVER come to harm.

If we remember instead that “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet” then we won’t need to feel guilty when the inevitable happens.

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