No Coping Skills = Chaos
For kids, failure equals learning, growth and resilience.
Posted October 22, 2008
On my blog a little ago, when I wrote about guilty pleasures, you learned a few of mine are television shows, mostly in the reality genre. One of the best of these is Intervention which airs on Bravo. Each episode centers around the intervention of a person whose life is in total chaos due to drug or alcohol addiction. A recent episode profiled John, a 33 year old alcoholic from Boston. His story was sadly compelling, as all Intervention episodes are. Toward the end of the show, John said something that really struck me; something that seems to be a common thread in many episodes of this show, and something I've instinctively known for years.
He said he abused alcohol because he had no other way to cope. When he was 8, his mother died of breast cancer. As an adult, he lost a sister, a cousin and his best friend in a relatively short time. Poor guy. The hits just kept on coming. Anyone would have trouble coping in such a situation, and John's response is to drink. A lot. To the point where his heart and liver are seriously damaged. In addition to his lack of coping skills, he also remarked that he never learned life skills -- simple things such as household chores. In fact, while in rehab he said, "I'm learning to do things now that I should have learned when I was a kid, like taking out the trash."
Here's John, a grown man, struggling to cope with negative feelings and experiences, and just now learning how to do simple household chores that any child of eight could do. It was so sad. It reminded me of some of my clients and other parents I've known who shelter their children from all disappointment. They don't allow them to experience failure or rejection (no-score-keeping soccer, anyone??), they protect them from discomfort of all kinds, and forgo assigning them any household responsibilities.
I do believe these parents have the best intentions and behave this way out of love, but in truth, they do their kids a crippling disservice. These coddled kids move through childhood and into adolescence, sheltered from the negativity of the world, ending up as adults with no ability to cope. They're emotionally fragile, having missed cutting their teeth on the small coping lessons childhood is supposed to teach.
If you love your kids, let them fail. Let them fall down. Let them get disappointed. Let them lose the soccer game, the board game, the baseball game. Let them get cut from the cheerleading squad. And when they do, hold their hand, tell them it's not the end of the world, and help them find the life lesson in every small adversity. It's these small lessons that teach them to successfully cope with the bigger curve balls life will inevitable later throw their way.