Bad experiences in early childhood have a significant impact on kids during adolescence, according to recent research published by Child Trends. Investigators found that 48 percent of our kids experienced a serious negative event during childhood, with 11 percent of our kids having to deal with three or more severe situations.
The most common negative events were serious economic hardships (26 percent of kids), divorced or separated parents (20 percent), and living in families with serious problems with alcohol (11 percent), violence (9 percent) or mental illness (9 percent).
Youngsters who have had to deal with three or more adverse childhood experiences were much more likely to exhibit school problems, learning disabilities, behavior problems, and physical health issues.
It would be great if kids didn’t have to deal with stuff like divorce, domestic violence, or mental illness. We realistically have to prepare our kids to deal with life’s problems, whether they are minor nuisances or serious traumas.
This means raising kids who are resilient, and have the skills to persist and succeed even when confronted by setbacks and traumas. Here’s what you can do.
1. Be a great role model. Kids learn from watching us. When problems arise, do you whine and catastrophize or adopt a positive, problem-solving attitude? Many of life’s events are beyond our influence, but our response to those events is entirely within our control.
2. Let kids deal with problems. Our natural instinct is to shelter our children from harm, and intervene when problems arise. We want our kids’ childhood to be comfortable. They have the rest of their lives to confront problems.
This is the wrong way to think about being a parent. Kids who are overprotected during childhood are incapable of dealing with issues as adults. They never learn the problem-solving skills that are essential to navigate minor problems or serious setbacks. When confronted with such issues as adults, they tend to give up, wallow in self-pity, or manage their emotions with drugs or alcohol. Overprotective parents leave their children psychologically defenseless to deal with life.
3. Manage perceptions. We are raising a generation of kids who are the most privileged in the history of childhood. You certainly wouldn’t get that impression listening to youngsters in my office. Many have expectations that life will always be fun and entertaining. Minor problems are felt by these kids as major agonies.
Allow your children the gift of experiencing setbacks and hard times. They will feel more appreciative of the good times, and be better equipped to deal with the real world of adult pleasures and pitfalls.
Stop overprotecting and deifying your children. It’s the best way to prepare them for the real world.
Next week: Kids Left Behind When Siblings Leave for College.
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Dr. Ramey is a child psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital. He can be contacted at Rameyg@childrensdayton.org.