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April 21, 2014 at 3:28 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Should Parents Let Kids Win?

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Some of my first memories in life are the times I wrestled with my dad.

He'd would come home from work touting a new wrestling move he came up with or one that he'd heard about from another expert in this arena. We hit the carpet in the living room after supper for the much anticipated contest and he'd play the part of the notorious big-time wrestler Pampero Firpo. (Pampero demolished his opponents and according to my dad bit off the occasional nose or ear.) Still, without fail, he was just simply amazed by his son's ability to wiggle out of his every move. I even heard him brag about it to others. As a boy, I was obviously very proud of this skill set.

It wasn't until my late teen years that I realized in an epiphany that my dad had almost surely let me escape from those fabricated wrestling moves. The bigger-than-life throw down on the living room carpet was obviously manufactured by my dad. Though common sense would have led me down a path of disappointment, this really didn't happen. It didn't tarnish the excitement of a young boy wiggling out of the bear hugs and python grips of a loving father who took the time to make his kid feel like he had something special. Besides, by that time I had plenty of other accomplishments to be proud of.

It couldn't escape my notice that just maybe the self-confidence that grew out of eluding Pampero Firpo's death grips gave me the boost I needed to engage on the playground that first week of kindergarten or join the little league team. Something inside of me must have known that I had something special and that I was capable of success. Call it a springboard for the challenges of a kid on the real road of life.

Unrealistic?

Critics would say that we need to keep it real with our kids, that life is about making your own way and that expectations should be accurate. I disagree in that childhood is the beginning impulse for life. It's a risk-free practice round for adult life, supervised by parents and inherently magical. Kids at the age of 2 or 3 start to play make-believe as a milestone with or without adult encouragement. It's part of who they are. What a perfect time to teach them that they can accomplish great things in their lives within this magical framework.

Amidst the glory I achieved as a child wrestler, there were many more times that I tasted failure. Plenty of times as a child I went fishing and didn't catch a thing. Dad taught me chess and it took me ages to win a game. Through this though, I was encouraged to keep going and not give up. Something must have driven me to continue. 

Building Self-Confidence

Now, as a dad with four kids of my own, I've tried to create the same magic in each of their lives. Just this week I saw the spark in my three year old's eyes that told me she felt that unique gift.  She stood before her family in a torn princess dress and plastic high heel shoes. The lights dimmed and the music started. We saw crude moves and plenty of stumbles. But to her it was Broadway. She beamed as we amazed over her grace and beauty. Maybe this will help as the tendencies for a young girl to compare herself to others sets in, recalling that she has a family who thinks she is world class.

Childhood is a time of wonder and growing.  As we look to bring magic into their lives with Pinterest ideas and Disney, don't forget to make them feel like a stand-out amidst the cookie cutter stuff.  They probably won't become Olympians and we shouldn't expect them to be.  But we should do our best to give them a boost in self-confidence to help them manufacture their own accomplishments.  And in the same way, a childhood should be balanced with failures and disappointments as a rehearsal for the inevitable trials of life.

What do YOU think?

Did your parents let you win?

How do you handle this with your own children?

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