Coddled kids set up for failure

One of the strongest influences on my parenting was a business seminar on four quadrant leadership taken by Australian behavioural scientist Wilfred Jarvis.

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The quadrants referred to a graph with the employers’ control on the horizontal line and the employees’ skills and ability on the vertical one.

The first quadrant was at the bottom right where the employer had total control and the employee little or no skill. That was I’m in charge and I decide.

The next quadrant moved to the left and up as the employee developed some skill and the employer had less control. That was we’ll discuss and I’ll decide.

The third quadrant moved further to the left and up as the employee’s skill improved and the employer’s control lessened. That was we’ll discuss and we’ll decide.

The fourth quadrant was at the top left with the employee having all the skill required and the employer relinquished any control. That was you’re on your own, but I’m here if you need to consult.

This idea was just as useful in parenting as business.

Putting it into practice meant helping children develop their skills and giving them opportunities to learn and experiment. This let them experience the rewards of succeeding by themselves as well as learning to deal with failure. It fostered confidence, independence and resilience.

I was reminded of this when I read about these coddled kids:

Computer games, junk food, political correctness and apathetic parents are inhibiting Kiwi kids’ development, says physical educator Lee Corlett.

He has seen children cry because the grass on their school field hurts their bare feet, and kids who are so obese that they can’t get up off the ground without help.

“This is what our parents are doing to some of our children. It’s tragic, it’s awful,” he said.

It sounds like parental neglect at best and a form of abuse at worst.

Mr Corlett, of Sporting Initiative Nelson, every week teaches hundreds of Nelson children to “run, jump, throw, hop, skip, and catch, really well”.

He adores his job but says he is dismayed by many Nelson youngsters’ lack of physical skills and confidence, which he said were standard 20 years ago, before “PC gone nuts”.

“School teachers don’t have time any more, and mums and dads don’t have time any more.

“My job is to try and create a habit in the child’s mind that physical activity is real cool. And the hope is that will stay there for the rest of their lives.

“The physically capable children we are working with in Nelson tend to be the more academically capable child later on. That’s cool,” Mr Corlett said.

But parental apathy, and a lack of appreciation of the importance of physical activity for a child’s development, is affecting children’s attitudes toward exercise, something Mr Corlett fears will stay with them their entire lives.

“I’ll go to the park down the street from our house and I’ll see mum sitting there with her children. While they are playing, mum’s busy on the cellphone. There’s no interaction. It’s really sad.”

My parents and their generation didn’t do a lot with their children, they were too busy working. But they did encourage us to do things for ourselves and gave us the freedom to play outside where we ran, biked, climbed, indulged in rough and tumble and explored.

When our parents did have time to take us the beach, river or playground they might have chatted to other parents but they also watched and interacted with us.

Lazy parenting also affected a child’s work ethic, he said.

“Lots of New Zealand children don’t have any perseverance. Lots of things are done by mum and dad, because it’s quicker for mum to do it than for Johnny to learn to tie up his laces.”

However, children didn’t learn anything that way, other than reliance on their parents, Mr Corlett said.

It is often easier in the short term to do things for children but that sets them up for dependence and other problems in the longer term.

He said his programme encouraged kids to get stuck into physical activities and to push themselves further than they otherwise would, in a safe and supported environment.

“We’ll tell them why we do [an activity], and how it will help them later in life with sport or whatever. And we don’t give the option of not doing it. I will help them until they get it.”

He is imploring parents to do the same, so they can take an active role in their child’s physical development.

Five minutes a day of activities was all it took, he said. Parents should also allow their children to experiment, to go outside their comfort zones and perhaps their parents’ comfort zones. “If they climb a tree, let them climb a tree. It’s a good thing.”

It was also essential to create a balanced lifestyle, he said, “making art a part of their lives, physical activity a part of their lives, and, of course, schoolwork a part of their lives”.

Four traits were common indicators that a child would succeed later in life, Mr Corlett said.

“Confidence, perseverance, a ‘give anything a go’ attitude, and listening well. It’s all about attitude, and so much of that comes from parents.” . .

Parenting takes time and requires a degree of selflessness but the more you put into helping them learn for themselves when they’re younger, the more able they are to do things by themselves as they grow older.

Good parenting gives children the skills and confidence to succeed independently.

Coddling kids sets them up for failure.

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