Parents: Why Telling Your Children "You Can Do Anything" Is A Bad Idea

All good parents want the best for their children. Good parents spend time with their children teaching them about the world, and how to be happy in it. For around the past 20 years, many parents have told their children “You can do anything if you put your mind to it!”. While this is a positive, feel-good message, it sometimes can do more harm than good. Children need limits, and sometimes in life, they will not be able to achieve their goals. Telling your children, they can do be anyone or do anything sets them for unrealistic expectations. 

We Are All Born With Limits

No matter who you are, you are not perfect. There are things you do well, and others you do not. This is a simple fact of life. For some things, no matter how hard you work, you will not be successful. This is mainly due to biology. Some people are born with the ability to reason and discover, which makes them excellent scientists. Others are born with superior physical abilities, allowing them to become good athletes. No matter how many hours you train, you are not likely to become a star quarterback in the NFL, unless you were born with the ability and had excellent training and opportunities. 

There is no shame in knowing our limitations. In fact, to be successful in life, we need to know where we lack. Spending time on something unrealistic prevents us from spending time on something worthwhile. Children need to understand there are some things they are not good at, no matter how much they like it. Just because we feel we are good at something, does not make it true. 

Feelings Are Not Facts

In today’s world, feelings often outweigh facts. If we feel something is true, then it must be. If everything we feel is true, then there is no way we can make mistakes. Our feelings because excuses to do as we please. If we feel we should do something, then we do it. We do not take into account what is best for us. Worse yet, we teach our children to do the same. 

If our child wants to be a professional athlete, we tell them to try. We encourage them, and when they do poorly, we tell them it’s “ok” and to try “harder,” even if in the back of our mind we know they are not good enough. They spend much of their childhood with unrealistic expectations because they were told to just “try harder.” When they finally realize they are not good enough and have wasted hundreds of hours toward to failed dream, they end up in despair. 

Just because our children want to do something, and feel they are good enough, does not make it true. Often parents are the ones fostering this delusion as a means to fulfill their own dreams. For our children to succeed in life, they need real, constructive criticism, in ways to help them grow and learn.

Dreams Are Not Goals

Most children have dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. Some want to be astronauts. Others want to be police officers or fireman. Regardless of the dream, most do not make it to adulthood. This is a good thing, as most dreams are unrealistic. 

When I was a child I wanted to be an astronaut. I read books about space, the planets, and stars. For five years, I was obsessed with space. When I became a teenager, my dreams to become an astronaut died due to health problems. I discovered I had three spinal diseases, and due to them, I could never have a job requiring physical activity. No amount of training or work would allow me to become an astronaut. I needed to develop new goals, and let unrealistic dreams die. 

This may sound cruel, but sometimes, dreams need to die. Most of the dreams of your child will die, and this is a good thing. Dreams are not goals, as goals are realistic and achievable. For a dream to become a goal, analysis needs to be conducted as to the cost of achieving the goal, and the potential rewards. Goals take work; dreams do not. 

Failure is Healthy

Watching your child struggle is painful. Watching them fail is a painful experience. However, sometimes they need to fail. When your child last failed at something over and over, how tempting was it to step in and save them? Unfortunately, most parents today step in and protect their children from failure. 

It’s not just the parent’s fault; it is also the school system. In many schools, children are allowed to repeat assignments they fail. There is no real consequence to failing an assignment or test. Our kids are learning there are no consequences to failure, as something will save them. When they enter college or job market, they have not learned how to fail, and how to pick themselves back up. Everything today is “safe” as to not damage their self-esteem. 

Your child needs to fail, and fail often. They need to know how it feels and learn to deal with pain. They need to learn how to manage the consequences of failure. Watching your children is painful, but learning this lesson now is less painful than learning it as an adult. 

Too Much Self-Esteem Is Unhealthy

“Pufferfishsyndrome” is a word to describe someone who has too much self-esteem. Someone with “Pufferfishsyndrome” has an overinflated opinion of themselves. In their eyes, they can do no wrong. They talk about themselves all the time, do not care for the feelings of others. Often they have been told for much of their lives they are great and have had little to challenge this belief. Their parents, the school system, and others have told them everything they have wanted to hear, all in the name of self-esteem. 

Too much self-esteem is just as deadly as too little. Too much self-esteem can lead to narcissism. Sadly, we are creating an entire generation of narcissists due to the pollution of too much self-esteem. Self-esteem is a balance of knowing personal strengths and weaknesses. Avoiding weaknesses due to bad feelings lead to “Pufferfishsyndrome.” 

So, What Is The Solution?

The solution is to become more honest with your child and yourself. You need to know your strengths, weaknesses, and overall limitations. Admitting them is the first step is becoming a better person. What are you good at? What are you not? What goals do you have for the future? What are you doing to meet these goals? These are questions you need to ask yourself before you ask your child. Being honest with your child about your own strengths and limitations helps you discuss theirs. 

Next, talk to your child and ask them about their goals. Ask them why they want them, and how they think to achieve them. If their goal is unrealistic, express your concerns, and ask them how they will overcome the limitation. Discussing alternatives to any goal is prudent, as sometimes life will get in the way. 

Being a successful parent comes down to communication with your child. You have to talk to your child as often as possible about themselves, life, and the future. Talk to your child, and be honest with them, as they deserve no less.

 

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Nathan Driskell

Hello, my name is Nathan Driskell and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor – Supervisor in the Houston / Cypress area specializing in the treatment of Internet Addiction & Asperger’s / Autism. I work with children, adolescents, adults, couples & families.

You can reach me at my website or call me directly at 832-559-3520 if you have any questions. Thank You!
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