Having a child is like having your heart on the outside of your body. Parenthood has made you experience both love and vulnerability like you never imagined. Everything within you wants to both nurture and shield your child.

The greatest challenge of parenting may be that nurturing your child in a way that prepares her to thrive means you have to sometimes shut down your instinct to shield her from every pain or challenge.

Remember . . .

  • If you want your child to be able to learn to pick himself up, he must first fall down.
  • If you want your child to become a problem-solver, he must first have problems.
  • If you want your child to learn to reach for support, she must sometimes feel vulnerable.
  • If you want your child to become empathetic, she must experience some emotional pain.
  • If you want your child to experience joy to the fullest, she must also know that sometimes life holds sadness.

So how do you know when to protect and when to allow her to experience the full consequences of life?

I genuinely wish I had an easy answer, but I don't know your child or your circumstances. At its simplest, you should ask yourself whether safety or morality is at stake.

Does it compromise my child's safety?

Remember that a few literal or figurative bumps and bruises are great teachers. But if safety may be seriously compromised, then you must protect at all costs.

Does this situation offend my sense of morality?

It is your job to raise a child with a strong sense of morality and commitment to justice. If your child is straying into territory that just feels wrong, she must be protected from making a mistake she will deeply regret or that will affect others' well-being.

Its easy to imagine that we are doing our best job as parents when our children seem trouble-free.  In fact, we may  best protect our children when we allow them to experience vulnerability while we remain a constant source of love and security.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg is the co-author of "Letting Go with Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century" with Susan FitzGerald, and the author of The American Academy of Pediatrics' Book "Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings." More importantly, he is the father of two teen daughters and is learning (and making mistakes) every day.

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