How to Raise Self-Reliant Children

Being a parent is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences a person can have. We often start the journey into parenting with immense hopes and dreams for our children’s future and a desire to grow happy and healthy kids.  At times, however, in our efforts to create a happy child, could we actually be giving our kids too many choices, too much praise and constant encouragement? Are we failing to balance the praise with criticisms, even when the criticisms are well deserved?


In July, 2011, Lori Gottlieb wrote an article titled How to Land Your Kid in Therapy. She claims that in our strive to create a generation of kids with high self-esteem and drive, we are guilty of being so attuned to their every need that we are actually raising a generation of unhappy kids who are unable to cope with real life. She states that in our Herculean efforts to protect our children from any type of discomfort and unhappiness, we are growing a generation that is unable to deal with any type of failure, frustration or struggle.


In today’s world of helicopter parenting, we attempt to give our children the opportunities we didn’t have as children. We enroll them in lesson after lesson, we try to solve their mistakes and reduce the amount of discomfort they experience in their daily lives. Wendy Mogul, author of The Blessing of a B Minus writes that “Our instincts are to overprotect [our children], to overindulge them, to over-schedule them and to fight their battles for them. But that deprives them of the most critical learning they need to do.”


As a parent, it can be agony to see your child struggle. Whether it’s learning a new skill, making new friends or deal with an unpleasant situation, there will always be times when the best thing you can do as a parent is to take a step back and allow your child to struggle in order to succeed. Mogul advocated what she calls compassionate detachment — you detach from the specific moment, but you don’t detach from the child.  She believes that you have to recognize that kids can’t be good problem solvers unless they have problems to solve. They have to make dumb mistakes to get smart. As a parent, you need to be attentive, but not alarmed. So there is definitely involvement, but not an anxious hovering.


How and When To Step Aside


  • Wait it out: Often, a problem arises quickly and can fizzle out just as quickly. By waiting a bit to see which direction the situation takes, you are giving your child the ability to react appropriately or come to you for help.
  • Be compassionate but not entangled: Show interest in the problem and be kind but don’t sound the alarm immediately. Sometimes, giving your child some time to vent and talk about what’s going on will allow them to create their own solutions.
  • Show some faith: By allowing your child to problem-solve and try to figure out solutions, they will become confident in their own ability to solve their own problems.
  • Normalize feelings of frustration: By letting your child know that it’s okay to feel frustrated and angry, you are validating their feelings without offering solutions, again demonstrating your confidence in your child’s ability to take care of themselves.
  • Encourage your child to seek help: Teach kids to problem-solve with other adults, like coaches or teachers, instead of you always running to their aid.
  • Distinguish dramas from emergencies: If a situation is one where you would consider calling 911, or if it looks like it is starting to get out of control, definitely intervene. Otherwise, learn to your gauge your child’s demeanor to distinguish situations that are ordinary or out-of-control.
  • Raising self-reliant children is an essential life skill children need in order to grow into well-developed adults. Self-reliant children have increased confidence in their own abilities, the capacity to see struggles through and the capability to work for what they want. I promise, one day they’ll thank you for it!


Author: Ali Goldfield RP - Child Therapist