• Should we remove pain from children’s experience?

    September 26, 2016 | Blog Parenting
  • In 1916, the Asian Lady Beetle (the ladybug’s relative) was introduced into the United States as a method of controlling some other pests. And, as biological control methods like this often do – it worked. But then these helpful little beetles escaped their greenhouses and, well, were fruitful and multiplied. The problem was, they were introduced into these ecosystems, and did not have a natural predator to keep their populations in check. (Read: Crazy lady beetle infestation!) As it happened, the intended solution became the problem.

    (For more information on this unfortunate situation, Click Here)

    ca. 1995 --- Insects - Ladybugs --- Image by © Ed Young/CORBIS

    ca. 1995 — Insects – Ladybugs — Image by © Ed Young/CORBIS


    Today, I’ve noticed that there are many young adults that are reluctant to take on adult roles. In general, men and women are taking longer to move out of their family home, become financially independent, get married and have children, and other milestones that tend to mark the transition into adulthood. You may have heard it referred to as failure to launch. Some have termed a new developmental stage after adolescence and before adulthood: emerging adult. What’s going on here?


    There are books, articles, and academic lines of study looking into what is happening in the current generation. Certainly this blog post won’t be a comprehensive review, but I wanted to try out a theory. What if some of the parenting advice we’ve been hearing is like the Asian lady beetle? Specifically, the advice aimed at reducing pain in a child’s growing up years.


    Let me give you some examples.


    Have you heard about the study that shows that saying “no,” is not effective in influencing children’s behavior? (There are so many problems with this study, I can’t begin to address them here, but those problems didn’t make it to the newspapers.) The implication of the study was: don’t tell children “no.” It doesn’t work, and kids don’t like it. If you think I am kidding, several years ago, a mom in our church was telling her toddler, “Make a better choice friend,” instead of “no.” Why? She had been a teacher and was trained to not say, “no” to her students. We don’t want kids to feel limitation.


    We’re taught not to punish our children, but to give them consequences. (John White questions this teaching in a helpful, but older, book called Parents in Pain.) Love and Logic, a popular form of discipline, tells us we’re supposed to offer our children choices and do so calmly knowing that the child will experience natural consequences. (Never mind that passion brought my child into the world, passion woke me up at night to feed my infant, passion keeps me engaged as a parent when the natural part of me wants to walk away… now when my child is disrespectful to me I’m supposed to be as stoic as the sphinx. Ok.) We don’t want kids to feel reasonable fear.


    There are many different views on spanking, but I know parents who spank intentionally and discriminately but keep it a secret because they don’t know who will report them to child protective services. We don’t want kids to experience pain.


    And, I’m certain you’ve heard the advice that encourages parents to tell children 5 positive comments for every one negative statement. Which should make every mother with 3 children laugh out loud. The ridiculousness of this expectation just makes me speechless…Oh my.   We don’t want kids to feel criticized.


    So we’re introducing this type of parenting (and teaching) that tries to remove pain from children’s experience. Let’s say, this type of parenting is akin to biological control. It’s meant to be helpful, and can be helpful: consider any time that abusive parents have learned to not be abusive. And don’t get me wrong – when my kids are in pain, everything in me wants to make it stop!  But this same method has unintended consequences because the original situation – pain in childhood – wasn’t necessarily a problem to be eradicated as much as it was a reality to deal with. A reality that has pros and cons.


    For example, pain in childhood is a motivator (PRO). It motives a child to become an adult and do things better, or at least, do them differently. It drives children to be better, to become interested in giving back to the world in which they grew up.


    But without discomfort (CON), a child really has no internal motivation to exit the family home and enter the world. The world is tough. Bosses don’t wake you up when you sleep through your alarm. Landlords will kick you out if you don’t pay rent. You stink and go hungry if you don’t do your own laundry and cooking. If there is no pain at home, why leave it?


    And this introduced species – parenting that reduces pain – has no natural predator (like the frisky Asian lady beetle). Can you imagine someone suggesting that we increase pain in a child’s experience? Take this blog for example – aren’t you appalled by it?? What am I implying after all? Hit your kid indiscriminately? Leave them alone so they can experience true fear? Of course not. Please don’t do these things.


    There’s no question that biological control has been helpful. In the same way, attempts to make homes safe, welcoming places to grow up have been beneficial. Even so, I think there have been some unintended side effects when we take this intended solution to an extreme. Our children’s pain is not a pest to eradicate. Pain is a reality to learn to live with.

    The question is – can we allow this reality purposefully?


  • 1 comment

    Thanks for this excellent blog, Veronica. You have pinpointed a critical flaw in the thinking of many of today's parents!