As much as we try to shield them from the most difficult of experiences, children are not immune to facing hardship. Whether it be as small as not getting picked at playtime or as large as losing a loved one, these hardships help to shape how a child handles life challenges.
Parents and caregivers are integral
Finding ways to cope in those moments may be more difficult for young ones, as they are in their formative stages of development, life experience, and social-emotional understanding. However, parents and caretakers are integral to a child’s development of healthy coping strategies. They can provide the guidance and support necessary for developing appropriate and effective coping strategies in times of hardship.
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With patience, creativity, exploration, and reflection, parents and caretakers can equip children with coping tools that best match their unique needs.
Children need to experience some hardships
The other day, I took my son to a bookstore to buy school supplies. He wanted to buy an expensive but impractical pencil case. However, I bought him one that was plain but practical. He immediately showed his displeasure at my choice.
He also wanted to buy a fancy plastic ruler, but I bought him a plain wooden one. He again showed his displeasure with my selection. I did not say anything, but I wanted to convey that too much of a good thing was not good for him.
Ever since I became a father, I have repeatedly reminded myself to carry out my responsibilities as a parent differently from most Chinese and let my children experience some hardship. However, I was always bothered by the concept that no matter how much you suffer, don’t let your children suffer as well.
Several years ago, an old friend from Australia visited me and gave me some sound advice. He told me that Australian people live well and believe their children need to experience some hardship. They believe that children who have it too easy will not be able to stand independently.
I accompanied him on a few errands later that day. He pointed to a baby who was wrapped up like a cotton ball and said:
“In Australia, you do not see children wrapped up like that, even in winter. If it is sunny, mothers will deliberately expose their children to the sun.”
Materially poor, but spiritually rich
I thought about it again that evening and decided that the Chinese idea of sparing children from all hardship was not the right path. I decided to teach my son the materially poor but spiritually rich principle. I was told that a Philadelphia high school had two sculptures on either side of its front gate, an eagle and a horse. These sculptures do not express victory or success but represent two old tales.
To accelerate the realization of flying across seven continents, the eagle learned a variety of superb flying skills; however, it starved to death because it lacked the skill of foraging.
The horse did not like its first owner, who had to work hard. His second owner was a farmer, but the horse disliked him because he provided too little food. The horse was next sold to a cobbler. The horse was happy with the cobbler, for it was not worked and had plenty to eat. What a good life, thought the horse! Unfortunately, a few days later, it was butchered by the cobbler.
From these two tales, we learn that they are not a whole person if one does not have basic survival skills. Many animals in this world teach their offspring to hunt and survive, but once they are old enough, they have to use what they learned to fend for themselves. We as human beings must do the same for our children so they can withstand the storms of life and become confident and independent individuals.
Translated by Yi Ming