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The Dangers of Cotton Wooling Your Children

The dangers of cotton wooling your children

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the dangers of ‘cotton wooling’ your children – overly protecting them – and how that undermines the economy and evolution of society.

First a quick update:

Why powerful men cheat with powerless women and do the French believe “innocent until proven guilty” more than Americans do?”
Listen to the interview I gave to Radio New Zealand National with Jim Mora. The former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been freed from jail on a million dollars bail on the condition he be confined to a New York apartment under armed guard while he awaits trial on attempted-rape charges. The hosts explore the question – ‘would the French have done the same?’

“Why power couples split”
Watch the TV interview I gave from LA to Australia for “The Morning Show” about the unique relationship challenges that power couples face and why powerful men cheat.

Now, lets’ talk about the dangers of ‘cotton wooling’ your children – overly protecting them – and why that undermines the economy and evolution of society.

Recently, I was with a group of friends when the quiet conversation was suddenly disrupted by the loud sounds of a small five-year-old boy (the son of a lady in the group.) This tiny boy was in a karate stance and wanting to fight the men. Everyone in the group was smiling and laughing and soon I, too, assumed the same stance and then picked up the little boy and was tossing him up in the air. He was laughing and ecstatic as he was flying high. Of course, if you are a parent or have ever done this before, then you know, the only challenge is that the child won’t let you stop. “Again. Again. Again” he called out to me each time I tried to place him down on the ground.

This fun play is known as roughhousing – good old fashioned horseplay. However, in today’s society, fear has taken over and more and more parents do it less and less, to the extent that a book had to be written about resurrecting this practice: “The Art of Roughhousing” by Anthony T. DeBenedet, M.D. and Lawrence J, Cohen, Ph.D.

In the book and on their website the authors reveal how this game-playing benefits the growth of the child:

“Roughhousing activates many different parts of the body and the brain, from the amygdalae, which process emotions, and the cerebellum, which handles complex motor skills, to the prefrontal cortex, which makes high-level judgments. The result is that every roughhousing playtime is beneficial for body and brain as well as for the loftiest levels of the human spirit: social awareness, cooperation, fairness, and altruism.”

Roughhousing (with limits) also creates greater bonding and emotional connection between the parent and child and leads to increased emotional intelligence. The physical touch and affection are also critical to both the parent and child. In his book “The Science of Love”, author Anthony Walsh cites studies involving children who suffered love deprivation and lack of physical contact. The results indicate that they were vulnerable to a host of diseases, that their intelligence was lower and that their rates of criminal behavior and mental illness were higher. Read more here.

The fear of parents to engage in roughhousing – rowdy, interactive fun games with their children – is only a small part of a much larger trend by parents raising their children in a nice, thick layer of cotton wool (cotton balls) in order to prevent their children from feeling any pain or even the slightest discomfort.

One elementary school in California banned the game of tag, claiming it creates self-esteem issues among weaker and slower children. The Franklin Elementary School Principal, Pat Samarge, in his weekly newsletter told parents that children playing tag suffered both physical and emotional injuries: “Little kids were coming in and saying ‘I don’t like it.’ [The] children weren’t feeling good about it.”

Unfortunately, even the so-called educators have contributed and perpetuated two major myths:

1. Everyone must be a winner (to boost self-esteem)
One of the major causes of today’s rampant narcissism and sense of disillusionment is the result of parents who told their children how great they are when they had done nothing at all. Yes, we need to encourage, validate and praise children, but, we must also ensure that the validation is valid. In other words, children need to be rewarded for contribution and achievement; otherwise they grow up feeling entitled like Paris Hilton or Charlie Sheen. Children also need to experience competition and losing. Yes, losing. Whether it is a competition such as the Olympics or the competition for a promotion at work or even the romantic pursuit of a partner, there will always be a winner and a loser; that is the reality of life. Denial in childhood only leads to greater suffering and emotional pain in adulthood.

2. Physical or emotional discomfort prevents growth
Aside of the references I made above to roughhousing, many parents go to great lengths and extremes to protect their children from experiencing discomfort, fear or anxiety, avoiding any activity that might have risks or trigger fear within the child; the hypochondriac parent or the parent that is always screaming out ‘fear, danger, beware.’ However, that action creates the very thing it is trying to avoid – fear, anxiety and paralysis. A child needs to cry on his/her own sometimes to realize he/she can’t always have what he/she wants and; to learn that he or she can overcome the fear or anxiety. When children are shielded from anxiety they never learn how to handle that emotion and then when they become adults, they are faced with fear and anxiety but have not learned how to respond or master it. Another negative by-product of this action is exemplified by the child who becomes enmeshed or overly attached to the parent and at age 35 still lives with mom or cannot make decisions on his or her own or constantly seeks their approval or protection.

The negative results of creating ‘cotton wool kids’ or ‘cotton ball kids’ extend beyond an individual impact to a serious socio-economic impact.

In 2007, a former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, Sir Digby Jones said that teachers who refuse to let children take risks are undermining the economy; the prevailing culture of risk aversion “is potentially fatal to our economics and social wellbeing.”

In a study, two-thirds of employers in Britain cited a lack of self-management skills amongst teenagers while another report by the Association of Graduate Recruiters said that many vacancies were being left unfilled because even academically bright students lacked critical skills such as communication and leadership. A person cannot become a leader unless and until, he or she learns to take risks.

Sir Digby Jones warns: “If we never took a risk our children would not learn to walk, climb stairs, ride a bicycle or swim; business would not develop innovative new products, move into new markets and create wealth for all; scientists would not experiment and discover; we would not have great art, literature, music and architecture…we are also teaching the next generation of wealth creators that risk, failure and competition do not exist.”

Overall, it appears that parents are projecting and transferring much of their own personal fear, inadequacies and even unresolved issues onto their children. Yes, there is much fear in society – terrorism, economic and social uncertainty & instability and crime – but responding to it with more fear only paralyses you and your children and makes you and them a prisoner of your fear. Remember, too, that you cannot make up for what you didn’t get as a child but you can learn from it so that you don’t make the same mistake as your parents. Listen to my interview and discussion with colleague and friend Dr. Vicki Panaccione, Child Psychologist and founder of The Better Parenting Institute, “Stop being your child’s friend

In conclusion, cotton wooling your kids will only create adults riddled with fear and anxiety. One can only grow and evolve by action, by facing and acting in spite of the fear. And in the words of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on March 4, 1933, during one of the toughest and darkest periods in US history – The Great Depression – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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