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7 Ways Parents Undermine Their Children's Confidence and Make Them Less Gritty

Updated on February 10, 2017
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Nancy taught pre-k, kindergarten, and earned a master's in special education. A son with autism showed her the value of early Intervention.

If you have kids in middle school or high school like I do, you're well aware that “grit” is a prominent buzzword in education today. Principals and teachers extol its virtues, explaining why it's vital to achieving long-term goals at school and on the job. But how do parents undermine grit?

A Trophy Was Once a Symbol of Hard Work and Achievement But Now Everybody Gets One

Kids don't learn grit when they get a trophy just for being on the team.
Kids don't learn grit when they get a trophy just for being on the team. | Source

Grit: the Secret to Success

Much of this new-found emphasis stems from the research of Professor Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, who found tenacity is a better predictor of success in life than IQ or talent. But, as an elementary school teacher, I saw far too many parents cuddle their kids, making them less competent and capable. These youngsters are not ready for a world full of struggles and uncertainties because their moms and dads smooth the way for them. Here are 7 ways parents undermine their children's confidence, making them less gritty and less able to handle life:

1. Being Helicopter Moms and Dads

We've all heard about helicopter moms (and dads)those parents who hover around their kids to guide and protect them. This unhealthy connection between parent and child has been made even worse by the popularity of cell phones. Now, if a child has a problem, she doesn't need to solve it herself because mom or dad is just a phone call away to save the day.

My nephew recently turned 7 and had a birthday party with 12 of his classmates. One of his buddies was feeling a little left out so he pulled out his phone to call Mom. Within minutes, she was at the front door to scoop him up and take him home.

Nothing bad had happened to him at the party – just the usual struggles of socializing in a large group. But his mom – wanting to seem the hero – decided he couldn't handle it and needed to get rescued. Without realizing it, she gave him the message: You can't hack it at this party. You can't maneuver this social situation so I need me to save you. It would have been so much better for his confidence if she told him to stick it out and she'd pick him up shortly.

Helicopter Moms and Dads Give Kids the Message That They're Incompetent and Can't Handle Life

Kids develop grit when they take on new challenges. Helicopter parents try to shield their children from adversity and failure.
Kids develop grit when they take on new challenges. Helicopter parents try to shield their children from adversity and failure. | Source

2. Giving Everyone a Trophy

I received my first and only trophy when I was 13-years-old. I had played on the same basketball team for three years, practicing four days a week and traveling from city to city. During our third year together, we won the division and each team member received a well-earned trophy. Conversely, my son got his first trophy when he was just 5. At the end of his first soccer season, the coach decided to present each player with a golden statuette just because he thought it was cute.

Children today get trophies regardless of effort and achievement. This certainly doesn't prepare them for the realities in this competitive world of ours. Students, who sail through school with many accolades, often struggle mightily in college when the demands get weightier. Some drop-out because they've never experienced adversity and can't cope.They've never developed the fortitude to struggle, suffer, and keep going.

3. Not Letting Them Fail

Too many parents today won't let their kids make mistakes, fail, and suffer the consequences. When my son received a “D” in his sixth grade language arts class, my friends and family got flabbergasted when I didn't march into the school, face off with the teacher, and demand a change on the report card. They believed this "D" would cast a pall on my son's future forever, limiting his college and career choices.

But I saw the situation as a chance for my son to learn an important real world lesson about not completing a crucial assignment on time. When he's an employee some day, Mommy can't fight his battles for him or offer up excuses to his boss. He won't receive frequent reminders when due dates are approaching. As parents, our biggest job to prepare our kids for life and all its hardships and complexities, not to remove obstacles so their existence is smooth and trouble-free.

Parents Go Overboard With Praise, Especially When It Comes to How Their Children Look

Kids don't develop grit when they're praised for their looks above everything else.
Kids don't develop grit when they're praised for their looks above everything else. | Source

4. Turning Them Into "Praise Junkies"

Parents today praise lavishly and indiscriminately, creating kids who are “praise junkies.” These youngsters need adult approval and don't develop that internal voice that makes them feel good about their work. They're less likely to take risks, not wanting to disappoint mom and dad.

Some parents take the easy way out, complimenting their children's appearance above all else. A mom may think it innocuous when she says to her daughter, “You're the prettiest one in the class.” But this comment causes a lot of harm as the daughter now sees her female classmates as rivals, not friends. She realizes that Mom compares her to others in the most superficial of ways and looks are what matters most.

5. Not Giving Them Chores

My husband and I grew up in large families in which every child had daily chores: washing the dishes, taking out the trash, walking the dog, ironing the clothes. It was essential that each family member complete the task so the household ran smoothly. Many kids now don't even know what the word chore means. With today's smaller families, many parents feel it's unnecessary to give their kids household jobs. In fact, some feel it's more trouble than it's worth.

But according to Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Standford dean and author of How to Raise an Adult, giving your child chores is a wise move. According to her research, kids brought up doing jobs around the home are more likely to become competent workers who complete assignments independently, pitch in when they see a need, and collaborate effectively with peers.

A Fantastic Book to Help Us Parents Look at the Big Picture

If you're a parent like I am, this book will get you thinking. From being helicopter parents to not assigning chores, Julie Lythcott-Haims discusses what hinders our kids from becoming competent grownups. As a teacher, I could relate to the changes she's seen in parenting – how even students at Stanford now have moms and dads showing up on campus to help them with roommate problems and class schedules. Too many of us think good parenting is protecting our children when we really need to step back and let them find their way.



6. Over Programming Them

Parents today don't subscribe to the “less is more” philosophy when making their children's schedules. When I taught preschool, many of my students would leave class at noon and head off to ballet, soccer, or tumbling and not home for lunch and a much-needed nap. Anxious moms and dads booked their children with so many classes, thinking it was key to their future success. But what these parents failed to realize is the value of downtime and even sheer boredom.

According to psychologists, it's important that kids have unstructured time. It stimulates creative thinking, imagination, and innovation. Children need opportunities to make choices and discover where their interests lie. They especially need time away from screens when they can develop social skills, get exercise, go outdoors, and learn to think for themselves.

7. Being a Friend and Not a Parent

Your child will have many friends throughout her lifetime but only one mom and one dad. Parents shouldn't take their lofty positions and trade them for a less consequential one. This happened to me when my parents had marital problems while I was a teenager. My mother used me as her confidant, telling me all her grievances against my dad. I stopped living the life of a teen – hanging out with friends and going on dates – to spend more time with my mom, offering comfort and giving advice.

Kids develop grit when they're out in the world -- meeting new people, finding out where they fit in, and dealing with adversity. They need strong parents who support their growing independence. They need parents who want them to explore, have adventures, and enjoy being young.



A Motivating Book for All Of Us Who Aren't the Best and the Brightest

This is the book that got the discussion going about grit and why it's the key to success. Angela Duckworth includes both scientific evidence and personal stories to make her point about how important passion and persistence is to achieving goals. If you've wondered why some people win while others fail, this book has the answers. As someone who's certainly not the smartest or most talented in the room, I found it highly motivating.

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    • letstalkabouteduc profile image
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      Nancy Mitchell 2 months ago from Bend, OR

      When you're teaching, you're so busy you miss a lot. I missed the Oklahoma City bombing, two terms of the Clinton administration, and 9/11. But I think you retired, Bill, before grit became huge. It's been the last 2-3 years.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Evidently I retired before this buzz word arrived...or I was clueless at the time, which is entirely possible. :)

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