In my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do, I talk about the unhealthy parenting strategies that rob kids of mental strength.
But where do those unhealthy habits come from? Often, they stem from fear.
Here are three fears that can lead to parenting choices that prevent kids from developing the mental muscle they need to thrive during adulthood:
1. The Fear That You're Not Good Enough
Parenting has become quite competitive in the digital age. Social media has turned into a big reflecting room that allows you to see how great other Moms and Dads are, which often fuels the fear that you might not be measuring up.
Fear that you somehow aren't giving your kids enough (despite evidence to the contrary) can lead to variety of bad habits, like parenting out of guilt. When you experience unnecessary guilt you may be tempted to buy your kids more than they need or to give in to them after you've said no.
Fear about not being good enough can also lead to giving your kids power over you. During the Father Knows Best era, we had a hierarchy that was too stifling for most kids. But the parents were clearly in charge.
But now, we've swung the other way and kids are sometimes allowed to rule the roost. But being given an equal vote in adult matters or more freedom than they can handle is bad for their development.
2. The Fear That Your Child Isn't Good Enough
While most parents intend to raise a healthy, competent child who is ready for the adult world, for most, there's some fear that their child isn't ready to deal with challenges.
The fear that your child isn't good enough can lead you to believe he's fragile. Consequently, you might put a lot of energy into shielding him from pain.
Stepping in and shielding kids from pain, however, sends the wrong message. It teaches kids to believe that they can't handle discomfort and they may grow to believe they need you to step in and fight their battles for them. Kids need opportunities to practice dealing with real-life problems and challenges so they can stand on their own two feet later in life.
The fear that your child isn't good enough can also lead you to another extreme--expecting your child to be perfect. Whether you pressure your kids to be the best athletes and scholars or you constantly push them to perform flawlessly, perfectionism comes at a price.
High expectations are healthy. But expecting your kids to be perfect will put them under extreme stress. Most kids eventually give up trying altogether when they know the bar has been set impossibly high.
3. The Fear That Others Won't See Your Child as Good Enough
Finally, there's the fear that other people won't see your child as good enough. Whether you think a coach, teacher, or future boss might not recognize your child's abilities, your fear can lead you to condone a victim mentality.
Rather than accept your child didn't make the team because she didn't perform as well as the others, you might be tempted to say, "The coach only picks the rich kids."
Or, if your child doesn't pass a class, it's often easier to blame the teacher's unfair policies than acknowledge your child didn't perform well.
The fear that others won't recognize a child's worth might also cause you to lose sight of your values. Rather than teach your kids about honesty, kindness, and morality, it's easy to invest your energy into bragging about your child's latest accomplishments on social media.
Or, it's easy to focus on the final results--praising your child for getting a good grade without encouraging him to study hard. That may explain why 43 percent of teenagers cheat on tests--they think their parents value good grades over honesty.
How to Raise Mentally Strong Kids
It can be a scary world. Your parents never had to worry about things like internet predators. And they weren't bombarded with news stories about worst case scenarios, like dry drowning.
But, you don't want to allow fear to dictate your choices--you'll end up limiting your children in ways that you don't want.
Raising a mentally strong child requires you to face some of your fears head-on. Let your child make mistakes. Allow them to fall down sometimes. And let them tackle some of their challenges on their own--even though they might fail.
Focus on working your way out of a job. If you give your children the skills they need, they should need less assistance and help from you as they grow up.