Parenting power

happy little funny householder child boy in laundry with washing machine

Giving your child self-belief now, through tasks and chores, can support mental health in later life - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Mental wellbeing expert Philippa Saunders has some wise words on positive parenting

Ever had a job where you have no experience, no training, no instructions to follow, you weren’t allowed to quit, and people’s lives were at stake? Yep, it’s called being a parent. No doubt the most important job we will ever have, and one of the hardest to do well.

When you love your child, or grandchild, so much you could burst, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing everything for them. After all, when we tidy up after them, cook, iron and spoil them at any opportunity, it’s a sign of love right?  You may know a ‘helicopter’ parent that is always hovering by their child’s side, cautiously guiding them around a play park to ensure they won’t fall – you may even relate to this parenting style yourself – but it’s worth considering how these behaviours  could be having a detrimental effect.

When a child isn’t given the opportunity to do something for themself, or is ‘trained’ to depend on a parent’s loving help, a sense of helplessness can be created. It’s possible that the child will develop a belief that they can’t do certain things independently as a result. For example, if a parent always gets a child’s uniform ready for them before school, over time that child is likely to put little effort into doing this for themselves. If it’s something ‘mum or dad does’ they could perceive it to be something they wouldn’t do well themself.

This of course isn’t true, they could absolutely learn to do it, it’s just that the parent hasn’t given the child the opportunity to do so. Complacency and laziness in children can unintentionally be the result of over indulgent parents.  Arguably more worrying is the lack of confidence that a child can develop around certain skills as a result of not being exposed to doing something for themself.

There is so much evidence to suggest that feeling powerful is crucial in order to have good mental health. The 1970 British Cohort Study followed thousands of British adults from birth. At the age of 10 they were essentially assessed for how ‘powerful’ or ‘powerless’ they felt (their ‘locus of control’).  They were revisited at the age of 30 to see what was going on in their lives. Interestingly, those who felt more powerful at the age of 10 had, at age 30, significantly fewer incidences of depression and anxiety. They were also less likely to be overweight and reported higher levels of self-esteem.

Teaching our children how to feel powerful at a young age is incredibly important. When we (at any age) feel powerful, we feel in control, we are calmer and unlikely to create anxiety or stress as a result.

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A great way to encourage this in children is to allow them to learn for themselves. Expose them to as many new skills as possible and help them process the progress they are making. Get them involved with the washing up, the cooking, mowing the lawn…. At the very least ask them to help you with a task rather than doing it for them (resist that perfectionist urge to take over, believing that you’d do a better job).  With every new skill they learn, know that they are increasing their own sense of power and growing their self-belief. 

Phillipa is a Thrive Programme Coach. Find her on Instagram @thrive.with.philippa and Facebook @Thrive with Philippa