Create Happy, Successful Children
to persuade his fellow psychologists that love was a legitimate emotion,
that it mattered, that it shaped human development.
I’d been struck by a study he’d done with baby monkeys,
one that looked at mother rejection.
What the researchers saw was a sudden flowering of rather desperate outreach —
the babies put everything into making those mothers love them.
They cooed and cuddled, stroked and called.
It wasn’t just that they wanted to fix that first fundamental relationship,
they had to fix it before they could move on.
“You’re describing my patients,” a nurse who worked with
adult survivors of parental abuse told me.
They were 30, 40, 50 years old,
and they were still trapped in that childhood quest
of trying to make their parents love them.
How do you raise independent, self-sufficient children?
How do you help your children grow up into becoming strong, capable, successful adults who can take care of themselves?
Should you be more cold, distant, and hands-off?
What is the morality, or perhaps the moral danger, of giving to your children versus not giving to them, helping versus not helping?
What is giving too much? What is helping too little?
Should you criticize or compliment? Help or force to do?
Both? Neither? How much of each?
closeness, and especially dependency, while exalting independence.
We tend to accept this as truth – to our detriment.
People are only as needy as their unmet needs.
When their emotional needs are met, and the earlier the better,
they usually turn their attention outward.
Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Where do parental love and support cross the line into making children dependent and weak?
First, let’s consider the concept of self-sufficiency.
Self-sufficiency is apprehended as the ability to be alone, to be independent, to be self-caring. It is seen as good.
But despite the high level of insistence on self-sufficiency in our culture, we all depend upon one another. No one really exists alone.
In fact, we all do better when we depend upon each other than when we try to survive without each other.
Self-sufficiency can be a philosophy; a determination to seek out isolation or aloneness to allow reflection. It can be helpful to get away from the rat race for a while, to appreciate nature or to contemplate one’s place in the universe.
But aloneness works best as a break from everyday life in order to recharge. It is not fulfilling as a permanent way of life.
Scientifically, human beings are social beings. But hanging out together is more than just fun or convenient for day to day living. Attachment and dependence are necessary for our very survival.
We are not merely happier, we are more successful when we live together, share with each other, and support each other than when we live alone and try to do everything ourselves.
It’s built into the nature of being a child.
They may be hurt, disappointed, caught in destructive modes of being
that ward off any possibility of getting the love they yearn for.
But to be attached, even anxiously attached,
is to be in love.
Each year the love may become a little more difficult to access;
each year the child may disavow his wish for connection more firmly;
he may even swear off his parents and deny that he has any love for them at all.
But the love is there,
as is the longing to actively express it and to have it returned,
hidden like a burning sun.
Children are born loving and needing the love of their parents. This inborn love and need of love never diminishes; it is a part of human nature.
There is nothing parents can do for their children that will make their children more dependent and needy than withholding love from them, neglecting their needs, or refusing to support them.
That doesn’t mean that you let them grow up unloving, bad-mannered, selfish, or disrespectful of others; teach them what loving, good mannered, respectful, and kind behaviors are by modeling them yourself – especially with your own children.
It doesn’t mean that you give your children everything that they want, even things that are bad for them or that you can’t afford; children feel loved, and learn trust, when you prevent harm from coming to them, and respect you when you prevent harm from coming to yourself.
It doesn’t mean that you hover over your child, doing their homework for them when they’re children so that they get good grades at school, or calling their bosses at work after they’ve grown to make sure that they’re being treated right.
That is not love, that is neglect. It is disrespectful to your child as an individual for you try to live their life for them. Conflating your child’s life with your own (or with your own need for love, success, or approval from others) is not love, it is fear. It is neglect.
It is obviously not-love to criticize and control your children, to abuse them emotionally, verbally, or physically, or to reject them.
What is less obviously not-love is to smother them to the point where they can’t grow, or to withhold your love, attention, and support from them out of fear.
All addictions are about self-soothing.
And when do children need to sooth themselves?
When they are not being soothed.
Dr. Gabor Mate
Without love we wither and die.
What makes children fail in life is coldness and neglect from their parents.
Not love. Not giving. Not helping.
Children require love and support from their parents in order to survive and to grow into capable adults. Love and support prepare children to face the world on their own.
Parents who withhold love and support from their children will make their children try ever harder to get it.
When parents are too frightened, distracted, or misinformed to love their children naturally, attempts by children to provoke parental love will be expressed through more reaching out – and if that doesn’t work, eventually through what are sometimes misnamed “oppositional behaviors”, or even fake psychiatric diagnoses such “refusal syndrome” – crying, tantrums, bad moods, sullenness, withdrawal, running away, or even, eventually, rejection of their parents.
None of these behaviors are being “bad”. Children are not “born bad”.
Never, ever assume that children behave “badly” out of bad intentions. When children behave badly, it is because they have been treated with not-love. Gently and compassionately try to find out what’s wrong – you may be surprised at what is really going on.
Always assume this truth: what is not love is fear. Root out the fear and pain beneath your child’s “bad” behavior, and you may see it as not really bad, but the result of an affective state that can be corrected through your love, understanding, support, and often, help or assistance.
that exists alone and independent, unattached to other forms.
Children are rarely born psychiatric patients. People become who they are through their experiences, mostly, with their parents.
If that seems like putting too much responsibility, “unfairly”, on the parent, it isn’t. Parents are far more responsible for shaping their children’s reactions to the world than is generally recognized or accepted. It is a scientific fact.
Many parents reject this and turn to those who would reassure them that children are “born bad” or even born mentally ill (and therefore need drugs that suppress behaviors that are perfectly normal), because it relieves them, the parents, of responsibility – of discomfort over a fact. But nothing changes the fact. Parents are responsible for how their children “turn out”.
Badness, acting out, and negativity all are calls for love, for understanding of the child’s feelings and needs. All children are born needing love, acceptance, and support by their parents. When parents don’t supply their children’s needs, their children suffer, and acting out is a sign of that suffering. Nothing more, nothing less.
Adults, with power, can ask for what they want or need. Children don’t have that power except in the form of crying and fussing, preverbally, and by reaching out for it in any way they can, both verbally and physically, when they are older.
If children’s feelings and needs are denied or denigrated, if their power is continually taken away from them, if they are punished or ignored when they try to express themselves, if they are pushed away when what they need the most is kindness, attention, understanding, and love, children may become permanently insecure and needy.
Children who only sometimes, seldom, or never receive love and acceptance, support and protection, attention and encouragement from their parents will be traumatized – and therefore insecure and needy – forever.
… the more curious they become about the world.
Love makes people smarter.
Children need love and acceptance, support and protection, attention and encouragement from parents in order to grow up strong, confident, and able to thrive in the world.
These are such basic needs that nothing ever really heals a lack. They are so integral that when withheld, or the opposites given, children sometimes give up and decide that they must detach from, avoid, or as adults, become estranged from their parents in order to heal and to try to live happy lives, anyway.
That’s not the child’s selfishness or dysfunction on display – it’s a natural, normal response to life and living problems for the child that the parents caused.
very closely linked with a low degree of comfort
with intimacy and closeness.
[The] problem with self-reliance is the “self” part.
It forces you to ignore the needs of [the person you love]
and concentrate only on your own needs.
It prevents you (and the person you love)
from the feeling of joy of feeling a part
of something bigger than yourself.
Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Does love shown, strong protection offered, defense against the world promised, tenderness and caring demonstrated toward children of any age disable them? In other words, does parental love, acceptance, and encouragement turn children into dependent wimps?
The answer is no. Love does not make people weak or dependent. Love makes people strong, confident, and capable.
I like how Deepak Chopra approaches parenting. He promised to his children unending love and support for as long as he lived, forever, no matter what happened to them. And then he gave it to them. His children grew up with everything that they needed, emotionally and physically, to create their own happy, successful, independent lives, and they did.
How do you make your children self-sufficient and independent, in the sense of becoming capable adults?
The answer is that you love them with all your heart, allow them the freedom to grow, and help them whenever you can.
Love is more than the glue that keeps people together. People are more successful when they have other people to love and to be loved by.
The more love, acceptance, encouragement, and support you give to your children throughout their lives, from babyhood to adulthood, the stronger, happier, and more successful they will be as children – and as adults.
Love and the Cause of Revolution
November 6, 2011
Neglectful Parenting Excused by Drug-Expert Psychiatrist
July 15, 2010
Family Therapy and Counseling:
Psychiatric Drugs and Your Child
Dr. Peter Breggin
Family Relationship Books:
Love at Goon Park
Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection
Deborah Blum. Basic Books, 2002. Paperback.
Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control
A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors
Heather T. Forbes, B. Bryan Post. Beyond Consequences Institute, 2008. Paperback.
Beyond Consequences, Logic, & Control
A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors, Volume 2
Heather T. Forbes. Beyond Consequences Institute, 2008. Paperback.
The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love
Amir Levine, Rachel Heller. Tarcher, 2010. Paperback.
Why Does He Do That?
Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
Lundy Bancroft. Berkley Trade, 2003. Paperback.
This unexcelled book on family abuse is as much about parent-child relationships
as it is about partner relationships.
The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents
Guiding Your Children to Success and Fulfillment
Deepak Chopra. Harmony, 1997; 2007. Paperback.
First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love
Robert Karen. Warner Books, 1994; Oxford University Press, 1998. Paperback.
The Attachment Parenting Book
A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby
William Sears and Martha Sears. Little, Brown and Company, 2001. Paperback.
Help at Any Cost
How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids
Maia Szalavitz. Riverhead, 2006. Paperback.
Find more books on Child Psychology at my Amazon Bookstore.
Mary Ainsworth, 85, Theorist On Mother-Infant Attachment
Nick Ravo, The New York Times, April 7, 1999
To Err May Be Human; To Forgive Is Good for You
Erica Goode, The New York Times, May 22, 2001
He Was an Author Only a Mother Could Love
In the 1920s, John B. Watson’s parenting manual dispensed advice
that had the emotional warmth of ice
Ann Hulbert, Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2003
Tips on How to Love your Child
Cheryl Wetzstein, The Washington Times, February 14, 2011
Dear Prudence: Am I a Cold Mama?
Emily Yoffe, The Washington Post, October 3, 2011
- Yes, the questioner is too cold to her children (her friends are right). Emily Yoffe, often a terrible advice-giver, enables her coldness, however. Sad.
12 Ways to Mess Up Your Kids
Alice G. Walton, The Atlantic, October 20, 2011
Childproofing: Crawling Your Way to Safety
Bob Tedeschi, The New York Times – Health, October 26, 2011
New Rules for Childproofing a Home
Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times – Health, October 27, 2011
A Poverty Solution That Starts With a Hug
Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, January 7, 2012
You Can Go Home Again
Karen L. Fingerman and Frank F. Furstenberg, The New York Times, May 30, 2012
Treating Addiction – A Top Doc Explains Why Kind Love Beats Tough Love
“Using punishment to try to rehabilitate people who have already suffered years of punishment doesn’t work”
Maia Szalavitz, Time, August 17, 2012
- Interview with Dr. Gabor Mate
Proving the Necessity of Nurture
Lisa Wade, The Society Pages, September 5, 2012
From Parents, a Living Inheritance
Ron Lieber, The New York Times, September 21, 2012
- Parents who are not afraid to support their kids have the most successful kids.
The Psych Approach
David Brooks, The New York Times, September 27, 2012
- Brooks understands the need for good parenting but misses the fact that it is key. Schools should and must help kids to be successful adults by teaching them good self-esteem, good relationships, good marriages, and good parenting, because parents often fail to, or are bad role models. Schools can help to fill in the gaps of what is missing at home.
Why Is Paddling Still Allowed In Schools?
Adam Cohen, Time, October 1, 2012
- “Corporal punishment is taking place in 19 states across the country, despite a raft of evidence that it causes serious harm in children . . . Corporal punishment has been linked to mental health problems in children. Studies have found that children who receive physical punishment are more likely to experience depression, suicide, and anti-social behavior. A Canadian study published this year [and many, many other studies] found a connection between corporal punishment and alcohol and drug abuse.”
How Do You Raise a Prodigy?
Andrew Solomon, The New York Times, October 31, 2012
Affectionate, Less Controlling Mothers Have Strongest Relationships With Their Children
Science Daily, February 4, 2013
Helicopter Parents May Breed Depression and Incompetence in Their Children
Bonnie Rochman, Time, February 22, 2013
Too Much Helicopter Parenting
Eli J. Finkel and Gráinne M. Fitzsimons, The New York Times, May 10, 2013
The Case For Living With Mom And Dad
Returning Home May Be A Route To Financial Independence
Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch, May 7, 2013
- The result of an overcrowded planet.
© 2013 Cathi Carol. All rights reserved. Please do not republish without permission.
Last Updated: July 30, 2013
Find my book, movie, and music suggestions at my Amazon store.
See my profile at LinkedIn.
Please contact me via my account at Twitter (you have to have one, too) if you have a comment, a related article to share, want to report an editing error, or find a broken link.