Habitot Children's Museum

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Habitot Children's Museum

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111
www.habitot.org

Parenting Q&A
12 Things Great Parents Do:
Beware of Over-functioning for Your Kids

Loving our children comes naturally, but the art of parenting is a skill, and like any other skill it must be learned and practiced mindfully. Part of Habitot’s commitment to our community is to support parents in the crucial and precious task of raising young children.

For 2010-2011 we are expanding on parenting wisdom from local psychotherapist and parent coach Dr. Erica Reischer who has composed a list of “10 Things Great Parents Do.” We are adding two “great things” or our own and each month we’ll share research and our observations of tens of thousands of visiting families to illustrate how using the “great things” list will for work you and your child.

This month’s topic: Beware of Over-functioning for Your Kids

We parents naturally want to protect our children from life's pain, disappointment and discomfort, but it is an impossible task even if we could do so in every case. And it turns out that making mistakes and experiencing “failure” are essential life experiences that help children develop good coping skills. In fact, a child who is not making mistakes is probably not learning very much either.

Children who are given increasing amounts of freedom to test their own limits and choices will make the inevitable small mistakes – whether taking baby steps toward walking or choosing best friends – and in the process, will learn important things about themselves and others, and will become confident and resilient.

We parents must not step in too quickly to rescue our children when we see disappointment or failure looming. Better to let children learn that things don’t always go their way, or turn out as expected, and instead help them become comfortable with failure and disappointment as a normal part of life. You’ve heard the story about Thomas Edison who tried hundreds of materials before he came up with the perfect filament for the lightbulb. When someone asked him how he felt failing so many times, he calmly responded, “I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.”

We can help our children see that disappointments and failures challenge us to try harder or differently, or can open new doors because others are closed, and certainly can help us empathize with others who have failed. Children who are most comfortable with their own mistakes and the knowledge that sometimes they will fail, more readily embrace challenges and are less afraid to try new things. Children who have always had things go well for them are actually more timid and fearful of failure - a real liability as they grow older.

Here are some tips on how to avoid over-functioning for your kids:

    • Be aware of your own reaction to mistakes as you make them. Instead of admonishing yourself for a mistake, talk about possible solutions and what you learned. Reflecting on your own disappointments and your efforts at persistence will help model the right behaviors and attitudes for your child.
    • Don’t rescue children from every struggle, settle their conflicts, or shelter them from challenges unless absolutely necessary for health and safety reasons. Doing so suggests a perfect result is more important than the attempt itself.
    • Validate any feelings of sadness or frustration your child may have, then ask appropriate questions to help guide your child toward positive growth. Ask your child: What happened? What caused this to happen? What can you do differently next time?
    • Children need to be encouraged to try again. Make trying again a "safe" experience. Wait until the child is ready, but don't wait too long. If appropriate, break the task down into small goals, and work together to accomplish each goal.
    • Teach your child “failure tolerance” by not over-reacting to their mistakes. Focus on the solution, not the problem or who is to blame.
    • Model the behavior you would like to see in your child. Children will learn from watching you, picking up on the language, the actions, and the attitudes you express to your partner, other family members and to others in the community. If your child consistently behaves in ways you don’t like, reflect on you own words and actions to make sure you aren’t sending the wrong message.

To see the complete list of “10 Things Great Parents Do” or to learn more about Dr. Erica Reischer, please visit her website at www.DrEricaR.com. You can also get a hard copy of the handout in the purple parenting cart in the museum.

Parenting Resources

Mendel. Why to Let Your Child Fail and Make Mistakes. December 5, 2010. Kids At Thought Web Site: http://kidsatthought.com/2010/12/05/why-to-let-your-child-fail-and-make-mistakes/

Gebeke, Deb. Talking to Children about Failure. June 1990. North Dakota State University Web Site: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/famsci/he457w.htm

Larsen, Dr. Katherine. Self Esteem is Over Rated: Go for a Sense of Mastery. December 2008. Raise Inspired Kids Web Site: http://www.raiseinspiredkids.com/articles/archive/senseofmastery.shtml

 
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