Doting parents are not necessarily better parents

Psychotherapist and author Amy Morin says parents should let their children deal with their pain or emotions on their own.
Psychotherapist and author Amy Morin says parents should let their children deal with their pain or emotions on their own.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

DALLAS • Amy Morin knows a lot about resilience. A licenced clinical social worker, psychotherapist and foster parent, she has devoted her life to helping others resolve problems and conflicts.

But she also has personal experience with building resilience. In her 20s, she faced the unexpected loss of her mother and, three years later, the sudden death of her 26-year-old husband.

A few years later, after remarrying, her father-in-law was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Those experiences led her to write a blog post in 2013 titled 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.

It got so many online views that she turned the concept into a book, which became a bestseller.

Now, she is providing a similar framework, targeting parents with her new book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do: Raising Self-Assured Children And Training Their Brains For A Life Of Happiness, Meaning And Success.

Here is an edited conversation with Morin, who is also a lecturer at Northeastern University.

Of the 13 habits you encourage parents to break, which is the most common?

Shielding children from pain.

One of our tendencies is to step in front of kids and say: "I do not want you to be sad or to deal with heartache or know how scary the world is."

We protect them and they do not develop the skills they need. Then they do not have the resilience to do it for themselves.

By allowing kids first-hand experiences to deal with pain or emotions, they get to practise.

How can parents reconcile their desire to protect their children with the need to let them experience uncomfortable situations?

Know they will fail sometimes and our job is not to be a protector, but to be more of a guide and we can coach them. That means taking a step back and letting your kids do more for themselves.

What else do parents often do that can be detrimental?

Parents make their child the centre of the universe. They have the notion that the more attention they give, the more doting they do, the better parents they become.

They believe the more they give the child, then the better off the child will be. That is raising a child who thinks the world revolves around him.

It is a tough wake-up call when they move out of the house and find out that the world does not revolve around them.

How can we counteract that?

Say "I'm going to give my kid the kid treatment rather than the royal treatment". You do not have to act as if you are their concierge and wait on them hand and foot and entertain them.

And you can teach them gratitude and empathy and give them a better idea that there are a lot of opportunities in the world to help others.

A lot of parents think the more they give, the more kids will give back to the world. We know that is not true. Rather than giving them everything, we need to teach them how to give to others. As a family, volunteer; do community projects.

In your book, you talk about core beliefs. What are those and what part do they play in kids' lives?

Kids are developing those beliefs. It could be something simple you say that leads a child to believe a certain thing.

If your child is scared of lifts, you say: "Okay, we'll take the stairs." It teaches your child to think "I must be too fragile to take the elevator".

They grow up thinking: "I am not a capable person. If I'm afraid of something, I shouldn't do it. My parents don't believe in me. Why should I believe in myself?"

Or saying "people like me never get ahead". They develop the belief that people will hold you back from reaching your goals, so why try.

As we are growing up, we develop these ideas and we hold on to them. When we are 30, we hold on to what we learnt when we were seven.

You can unlearn those things, but it takes time and hard work.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 15, 2017, with the headline 'Doting parents are not necessarily better parents'. Print Edition | Subscribe