As parents, one of our biggest and probably most rational fears is damaging our children psychologically and beyond repair. Parents often agonize over everything they do and say to their children out of fear of emotionally scarring their children. And while parents absolutely do play a significant role in their child's emotional development, some commonly questioned actions are definitely not scarring your child emotionally. I haven't met a single mother who is 100 percent certain she isn't damaging her child in some way. I'm positive I've already done and said things my children have internalized and, when they grow up, will tell their therapists about. And their therapist will validate their feelings by assuring them everything that is wrong with them is their mother's fault. Because, let's be honest here, in our society apparently everything is always the mother's fault.
When asked how parents emotionally damage their children, Dr. Matt Woolgar of Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London, responded by questioning the term itself. "It depends on what you mean by damage,” Woolgar told The Atlantic. “You can certainly say things that hurt a child and contribute to their development of self-concept. But you’re not going to say one thing that is going to scar them neurobiologically," Woolgar asserted, and later stressed it's important for parents to understand all children have unique personalities and are different in how they cope with diverse situations. So, what may be damaging to one child may be completely benign to another.
That said, parents are always giving each other the side-eye for doing something others believe is damaging. This is where our judgmental society thrives. If I were to believe every single study ever conducted, I'd lose the rest of my already-fragile sanity, mainly because so many studies contradict one another. I am constantly criticizing my own parenting. Am I fostering an unhealthy relationship with food in my children by bribing them with dessert? Am I causing my children anxiety by scheduling too many after school activities? Am I totally crushing my children's self-esteem by telling them they aren't naturally talented at [fill in the blank] and that they need to practice consistently to master a skill? Probably. Likely. Maybe? Eh, perhaps not, it turns out, and here's why:
Letting Your Child Cry
Allowing your child to cry is not damaging your child's psyche. Crying is a natural response to so many situations, sad and happy alike. When you try to prevent tears by giving your children everything they want, you're not teaching them the importance of developing coping mechanisms.
Furthermore, you're not damaging your child by letting them cry-it-out. In fact, researchers at Finders University found that letting your baby cry it out, or letting them cry for an extended period of time, does not lead to any long-term emotional or behavioral harm. As long as your child isn't actually distressed, and as long as you are not letting them cry for hours on end without consolation, you're not hurting anyone. Just know there are ways of allowing your child to express her emotions while letting her know you are present and available and approachable.
Letting Your Child Fail
When you prevent your child from failing, you are stymieing their learning. I see it in my classroom often: parents fighting their children's battles, doing their children's work, and believing everything their kids tell them. The problem is when parents do not want their kids to fail because they worry failing will cause their children anxiety, they are actually sending their kids two messages: "I don't trust you to make it without my help" and "you aren't strong enough or smart enough or creative enough to push through obstacles."
So, children grow up not knowing how to persevere, fall apart in the face of any drawback, and lack the confidence to take risks. And if you're still wondering if letting your children fail would cause them damage, read this letter from Even Branson, Richard Branson's mother, where she credits some of Richard's success to her ability of encouraging him to fail.
Giving Your Child A Participation Trophy
You can grumble all you want about our "soft" society and our "entitled" children and about how "everyone gets a trophy" and no one wants to work for anything anymore, but why don't you just hear me out first. Before our "everyone-gets-a-trophy" mantra, self-esteem seemed like a privilege only some were afforded. Only those who actually won the game of T-ball, and only those who actually earned an "A," would be allowed to feel good about themselves. Everyone else wasn't even allowed to try.
My parents, for example, grew up as children of war and children of war did not believe everyone should be rewarded just for trying; they valued the result more than the effort. My parents, and many others their age, have ridiculously low self-esteem and they wanted better for their kids. So, our parents started telling us that we are, indeed, special. And we started getting rewarded for trying and for failing. And our parents built our self-esteem. And while you may argue that an inflated self-esteem comes with its own set of issues, I would say that those issues waver in comparison to the slew of damage low self-esteem brings.
Rewarding young children for trying builds their confidence. Then, they use that confidence to take risks, to become entrepreneurs and innovators, to believe in their abilities. Rewarding children for trying encourages them to try and discourages them from giving up. So, go ahead and give your kid a trophy. I promise it won't hurt them.
Sending Your Child To Daycare
According to Reuters, a 2010 long-running study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health showed that children who attended a high-quality daycare are "less likely to act out" and are "more socially aware" than children who spend no time in daycare. Furthermore, James Griffin of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said that, “high-quality child care appears to provide a small boost to academic performance, perhaps by fostering the early acquisition of school readiness skills.”
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying kids who stay home with their parents are not privy to other wonderful benefits, what I am saying is that daycare is not damaging and can be beneficial.
Setting Limits For Your Children
Some parents believe setting limits for their children is crushes their children's spirits and restricts their creativity. But that is not actually the case. I believe most parents refuse to set limits because they feel guilty saying "no" and would rather not deal with tantrums. But setting limits for children shows them they cannot do anything they want whenever they want without consequence. Limits teach self-discipline and how to succeed and achieve future goals within the natural restrictions of life and our society. Since rules are a natural part of our world, children should be able to easily align themselves within certain regulations so they don't later falter in the face of their first "no."
Attachment parenting fosters a strong relationship between children and their parents. Attachment parenting is a “child-centered” approach to parenting. The parents are expected to read the cues of their babies and be responsive to their children's needs. That doesn't sound damaging, does it? But critics of attachment parenting believe this type of parenting spoils the child.
Yet, study after study, including one conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers, Patrice Marie Miller and Michael Lamport Commons, suggest that infants who are raised in families that focus on parenting have "lower stress levels, cry less often, and feel more connected to other people as they get older, even showing higher levels of empathy."
Separating From Your Partner
While plethora of research indicates that children who grow up in "broken" homes can possibly suffer from emotional drawbacks, hundreds of valid studies (and common sense) suggest that growing up with in a two-parent household where the parents hate each other does much more psychological damage to children than being a child of divorce. While some couples believe staying together for the sake of their children is beneficial to their children, they don't realize the emotional toll their broken relationship has on their children. The constant fighting, bitterness, possible violence, and a generally toxic environment is in no way better for children than an amicable divorce and parents who are happily separated.
So, it's always better to consult the experts in child psychology than to rely on your own opinions of what you think may be beneficial for your children.
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