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Parenting: BUBBLE WRAP CHILDREN: How Shielding Kids From Suffering Works Against Them

After speaking eight weeks this year to a Vancouver-based group of 150 parents in our iParent Series: Formatting the Next Generation, I received this amazing thank you gift pictured here. The plaque’s words are solid gold for raising children—

 “Prepare the child for the path
and not the path for the child”.

 Many well-meaning parents today are mistakenly committed to preparing the path for their little princesses by removing every obstacle—even the small pebbles—from their way. They see it as a badge of parental honor like a good housekeeping seal of approval to keep their children from any unnecessary life stress. They become a filter and an insulator from any trauma or tension much like “bubble wrap” to shield and protect their children from any and all harm. They may keep their children out of activities where they might get hurt. They often avoid difficult conversations about death, brokenness, failure, loss, sickness or loss.

Problem — how will their child learn how to handle life stress with this kind of pampering?

Real life is filled with splatter — people make messes! Parenting is making choices when it comes to facing hard times. When my mother passed away, did we want our young kids, who were very attached to ‘Gramma’, to see her in her cancer-ridden, emaciated state or to remember her as she was? If we had gone the bubble wrap route, our children would have missed an amazing chance to see his grandmother’s astounding faith in the face of pending death.

More splatter. When the marriage of our close friends was blowing up, how could we explain that? Do we spare the kids the confusion by shielding them? Our youngest was six at the time and had to ask us, “Are you and Daddy ever going to get a ‘diborce’?” They are facing it; let’s commit to helping them through it — no matter how young.

Further splatter. When my wife had her first scare with what looked like cancer, we decided to let our children walk through the journey with us—mirroring how to handle the hard stuff. Our oldest daughter’s question revealed her struggle with the reasons for her mother’s pending suffering as she said, “Why mom? Why would God let mom get cancer? She’s the kindest person I have ever met?”

Life is filled with splatter. Our car is stolen. A neighbor kills his wife in a cocaine rage. A kid gets cut from a team. A friend of our son dies in a freak on-ice hockey accident. A wallet gets stolen. A nephew is killed in a car accident. Our youngest gets hit by a car. A teen at school takes her life. One child blows out her knee in a basketball game; another child in hockey. Life happens…it will for your family too.

If you knew me, you’d know that I love to engage in life. I am not a hard times fatalist or a doom’s day fanatic. But the last time I checked, suffering is clearly part of the human experience. Overcoming hurdles can become an opportunity or a fate —depending how you look at it. It is how well we handle the trials that matter. The truth is, we usually are pre-storm, mid-storm or post-storm when it comes to stresses in life.

I understand that it is innate in us as parents to want to protect our kids from negative influences and from potentially harmful situations. I am not saying we should throw caution to the wind. But we can’t take away all the risks. Engaging in life involves risk — and things don’t always go in our favor. How we handle the problems that come our way is what shapes us and our future.

Thus, the goal should not be a pain-free existence. We know life is filled with difficult challenges. Even the human body is built to anticipate suffering. We walk with our children through sickness knowing they’ll develop antibodies to be healthier on the next go-round. Wise parents actually approve of their kids getting various diseases (vaccinations) to allow them to build up essential immunities to fight future illness. So why do we insist on bubble wrap when it comes to life stresses and personal suffering?

I have seen that shielding kids from suffering tends to work against their future success in life. Avoidance of critical conversations or denial of problems does nothing toward developing the skills needed to overcome difficulties. Jesus said it clearly, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Trials should be expected. Learning how to overcome through Jesus is what matters.

How will your kids learn a God-honoring theology of suffering if you are dedicated to spare them from pain? Frankly, the princess syndrome scares me as it can develop a sense of entitlement and silver platter expectation. But difficult circumstances that directly affect your child and impact their world need to be discussed in a thoughtful and age-appropriate way to bring critical insight for their future.

Here are five key lessons kids learn through going through hard times with the sensitive guidance of their parents — clear reasons to avoid the bubble wrap approach.

1. Suffering is a normal part of life. Children need to understand the balance of life. Stresses and joys flow in and out like the tides. Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair. But regardless of the circumstances, God’s love never fails and He is still sovereign. We don’t always understand the whys. But kids need to learn that when they can’t see the hand of God, they can always trust the heart of God. He works out everything for our good—our ultimate good. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28 NLT)

2. Suffering teaches things I can’t learn any other way. Most people would admit that they have experienced the greatest growth through hard times. Teach your kids to learn all the lessons they can — all that God may be teaching them—through the difficulties they face. The Lord is more concerned about your character than your comfort. Troubles serve to shape us. We can learn to rely on Him more and more. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” (Romans 5:3,4 LB) 

3. Suffering prepares me to persevere. We don’t do our kids any favor by letting them live in a fairy tale world. If kids aren’t allowed experience tough times naturally, they will miss the critical experiences that give them valuable perspective about living life in spite of suffering. They need to begin to understand even the ultimate hurdle. Death is a part of life — talk about life after death with your kids. Get your own theology straight. Life does go on. Teach how to grieve, to get up and keep going. That’s the persevering perspective Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV) 

4. Parents show the way to face suffering. Your children take their cues from you. Once when our oldest was six, she received a nasty gash from a neighbor’s miniature windmill. Blood was pouring from the head injury as she came howling toward the house. I heard her and ran to meet her. In spite of the trauma and pain, I had her calmed down and laughing by the time I had carried her into the front door. A visiting friend screamed with fear when she saw the bloody mess—only to reestablish the terror in my little daughter’s mind. She reflected our friend’s horror. Let your kids see and hear your God-honoring response to suffering. And develop crisis intimacy as a family. Care for one another and thus learn how to empathize with others—how to even show care beyond your family. God doesn’t waste your pain. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor. 1:3,4) 

5. Praying is the best way to face difficulties. Teach them to give their concerns to God because He cares for them. They can experience His peace. Don’t let them miss the building of their faith, as they trust God in His silence and the dark times. Prayer should be a regular part of life problem solving. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6,7)

So, I say ‘enough with the bubble wrap’. Don’t needlessly over-protect your kids — prepare them for the future. May the Lord guide you as you train and nurture your child for the path ahead — one of your greatest gifts to the next generation. I’d love to hear from you on how you are teaching your children these critical life lessons. Get more help for your family at www.DoingFamilyRight.com or download our DFR App.

© Dr. Dave Currie – February 2014 Web Pic_DC

Photo used with article: © WavebreakmediaMicro, image #:46340867, Fotolia.com