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Put the lawnmower away and let your kids experience challenges

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”

This sign hangs in my office partly as a motivational statement, but also as a very strong hint to both students and parents alike. Because guess what, parents? It’s OK if life is not always perfect for your children.

I know: It’s very difficult to watch our children experience pain or discomfort, both emotional and physical, or hit obstacles that make them unhappy. But as tempting as it is, helicopter parenting (or “lawnmower” parenting as it’s now called – as in, mowing down all obstacles that lie in your children’s paths) is not going to do your children any favors, and here’s why:


  1. Experiencing challenges will help children build knowledge and skills. Think of a project you did that you were really, really proud of. Did someone do it for you? Probably not. Was it difficult? Probably! But the important thing is that you did it and learned some things along the way. Did you start a business? Build a shed? Learn to cook? Allow your children to learn this same way – by doing things that challenge them without you taking over.

    This concept applies to your children taking difficult classes in high school, too. I have a lot of students and parents who request to get their students out of advanced classes because they are earning a B or C instead of an A. But the kicker is, that even though the 4.0 GPA seems very important at the time, those challenging courses will help students succeed at college later on. (FYI: North Dakota state colleges base top scholarships on a certain ACT score and a 3.5 GPA, not a 4.0 GPA. See an example by looking at NDSU’s guaranteed scholarships at

  1. Experiencing hardship will help our children build important “people skills” – things like communication and conflict resolution that are necessary for life. When we adults are having a problem with our partners, our jobs, our finances, or our vehicles or houses, we talk to someone, make phone calls, and figure it out. Encouraging your child to talk to their teacher or coach before you step in will help them build courage to have those tough conversations, resolve conflicts, or solve problems. Of course, there is a time when you may need to step in – they ARE still kids, after all, and they might need help – but stay out as much as possible while encouraging or advising from the sidelines. Then they’ll be ready to take on problems themselves when they move out on their own. (Do you really want to call their college professors or future boss when they are 20 years old and having a problem? I didn’t think so!)
  2. Experiencing hardship can help our children build empathy. Although we don’t WANT our children to go through some of these hard things – anxiety, depression, grief, breakups, conflicts with friends, illness or injury, and more – it is a beautiful thing to watch them turn around and encourage other students or siblings who are experiencing something similar. A study done at Northeast University showed that people who had experienced more adversity reported having greater empathy and compassion. So while they will need supportive parents during these difficult times, remember that they may be, at the same time, becoming stronger and more compassionate adults.

Parenting is not easy, and one of the hardest things is watching our children suffer or struggle. (I may have cried harder than my oldest child when he first got shots as a baby!) But just remember the world of good you are doing by allowing some challenges in their lives – and put that lawnmower away.