I have a black thumb. Translation – I kill most of the plants that are in my home. I try to water them according to their needs and transplant them in the spring as recommended, yet most of them end up turning brown and dying. This is a disgrace. My grandparents, mother and in-laws are gardening masters and all have green thumbs. In fact, I think they each have two green thumbs!! I did, however, find one plant that cannot and will not be taken down by my evil thumb. And that plant is…the Christmas cactus.
A little Christmas cactus was given to me in 2002 and it is still kicking. Why did this one survive and not the others? I am not sure. I am thinking it’s because it does not need much water, only natural sunlight. So, I keep it by the window and water it about once a week. The best part is, when I moved to NJ, I wrapped the plant in a plastic bag to transport it and forgot about it until about a month later. Guess what? It survived!!! I was so proud! It blooms every few years and beautiful fuchsia pink flowers sprout out of it. I will take pictures to share the next time that happens.
Anyway, I started thinking about how the cactus relates to children (here’s where it gets kind of deep). The cactus needs a little bit of water and lots of sunlight to thrive. Children need a little bit of encouragement and a lot of love to thrive. Today, we “water” our kids too much. We tell them that they are great at everything, can do anything, and that everything is okay. That is not the case and is a huge disservice to children when the adults in their life, mainly their parents or caregivers, have fallen under this realm of over-watering. I have worked with hundreds of parents and students over the years and have seen this happen far too often. Not everyone is good at everything. Children need to learn this. Children are good at some things and bad at others. That’s the way it is. We need to encourage children’s natural strengths and abilities and build on their weaknesses, teaching children how to deal with failure and disappointment along the way. When they come across something that is not easy for them, parents need to be there to help them through it. Guide them. Teach them strategies to work through it and not give up. Give them a little water, but try to let them work things out on their own. Parents should always be there to guide children, no matter what the age (I still ask for my parents’ advice and guidance and am almost 40!), but then step back and let your child try things on his own and make mistakes and fall. And then be there to help them get back up.
There is a term called “helicopter parenting” where the parents are constantly “hovering” over (watering) their child. I have seen it for many years. If anything goes wrong (the child does not get an “A” on the test, forgets his lunch money, does not meet the requirements for a club or activity), the parent is there and intervening, often blaming the teacher, coach, principal, nurse, librarian, custodian – anyone but their child. STOP DOING THIS! You are hurting your child and likely embarrassing him as well. Let your child accept the consequences of his actions and a lesson will be learned.
In one school I taught in, the 8th grade trip was to Dorney Park in Pennsylvania. If a student had more than three detentions during the school year, s/he was not able to attend. It was a reward trip for good behavior and was a great incentive for many students to come to school, get their work done, and do well. One year, the parents of several students who were not permitted to attend, decided to drive their children to Dorney Park anyway. Even though they were told about the trip in the beginning of the year. Even though their child had received three detentions. Even though the students and parents were warned about not being able to go on the trip if their behavior did not improve. Even though they received a letter stating that their children were not permitted to attend. But, these parents wanted their children to go on the trip no matter what. The heck with the school rules! The heck with the kids who did well all year and kept their little hormonal selves under control.
As a teacher, I was appalled, as were many of my colleagues. What did that teach their kids? And, think about how the good kids felt! The ones who followed the rules. The ones who EARNED going on the trip. Was that fair to them? Absolutely not. And they knew it. But this is the world we are now living in. Parents are breaking the rules. They are teaching their kids that it’s okay to defy authority and rules and blaming everyone but their child when things go wrong. These are the children I fear for the most. What are they going to do when the enter the real world? How will they react to failure, disappointment and real consequences? Needless to say, most of those students were also constantly in trouble in high school. Go figure!
One more thing. Overwatering does not seem to end in middle school or even high school. I have three friends who are college professors in three different universities who have had to deal with parents calling them giving excuses as to why their 20-year-old son did not get his paper done in time. Or asking the professor to give their 19-year-old daughter extra credit since she was not doing well in class. (I am seeing the cactus drowning in water at this point.) Due to privacy laws, the professors cannot disclose any information about their adult students, but the fact that parents are still interfering with their child’s adult education is disturbing.
The Point – Stop overwatering your child. Teach them about the realities of life. Do not blame others for your child’s mistakes. Give them little sprinkles of encouragement and lots of love and they will thrive. Showing your love for a child is not always giving them what they want. It’s about giving them what the need and preparing them to become productive and happy adults.