By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Founding Editor, bSci21.org
Kathy Caprino of Forbes Magazine recently interviewed leadership expert Dr. Tim Elmore on his view of modern parents as coddlers, whose overprotective parenting styles prevent children from becoming effective leaders. He pinpointed seven specific parenting behaviors discussed below. Though Tim is not a behavior analyst, his approach can be easily translated into such terms. In general, Tim’s approach seeks to ensure that your child’s behavior comes into contact with approximations of contingencies that he/she will have to encounter in adulthood. The greater the disparity, the more you are setting your child up for failure.
1) Shielding your children from risk. We all want to protect our kids. If we didn’t protect them, we would be bad parents. However, Tim believes it can go too far. He noted that an injury here and there can actually be a good character-building experience for your child in that they gain experience dealing with adversity.
2) Rescuing your child too quickly. In Tim’s view, many of the life skills that kids learned 30 years ago are fading away “because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them.” He suggests that solving problems too quickly for your kids, means kids will have less practice problem solving hardships later in life.
3) Raving about your child too easily. Tim alludes here to the “everyone gets a trophy” approach focused on ensuring your children have high self-esteem. While the intentions are admirable, Tim cautions against unintended consequences of providing an overabundance of praise noncontingently, viz., a loss of trust in the parents.
4) Feeling guilty. Tim advises it’s ok to tell your child “no.” They might not like you in the moment, but they will get over it. What they won’t get over, says Tim, are “the effects of being spoiled.” He notes that parents naturally feel inclined to give their kids what they want. But if rewards are given noncontingently, kids might miss that “success is dependent upon our own actions and good deeds.”
5) Not sharing your past mistakes. As kids get older, they want more independence, and, like it or not, they are going to try new things on their own initiative. Tim recommends accepting this as inevitable and sharing your own experiences in similar situations when you were their age. Doing so will increase the chances that things go well for them in the long run.
6) Confusing intelligence with maturity. Just because your kids are smart doesn’t mean they can handle themselves on their own in the real world. Tim cites countless cases of famous talented young people who get caught up in scandals in their personal lives. He notes “just because giftedness is present in one aspect of a child’s life, don’t assume it pervades all areas.” As a general rule of thumb, he recommends gauging the independence level of your child relative to his/her peers.
7) Talking the talk but not walking the walk. Parents must be role models for their kids, and kids can catch on to insincerity. That little white lie you told will catch up to you. Taking the easy way out of a task instead of giving it your all will rub off on your kids. Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” In this case, our kids are our world.
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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com. Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues. He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.