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Should You Protect Children From Pain?  

Jamey was one of my best friends from college and the first of my close friends to marry and have children. Soon after the birth of his first I received a letter (yes, this was before email) in which he described the experience of taking his infant son to the doctor for a round of immunizations. He spoke of the extreme distress he felt to see his son cry and how he wanted to take his son’s place and experience the needle himself so his son wouldn’t have to experience the pain.

Many parents can probably relate to that experience. The desire to protect your children from pain and suffering is powerful. The choice for Jamey was relatively easy. Even though he hated the experience he knew that not allowing his son to receive the immunizations would have been much worse for his son’s health and development. It is not always so clear when you should let your children experience pain and when you should protect them from it.

Pain is part of life and if children are not allowed to experience any pain, physical or emotional, they aren’t really being prepared to get along in the real world. They need to experience the disappointment of failure and the pain of a scratched knee so they recognize those things pass and really aren’t that significant. Parents need to let them experience those pains.

The biggest place I see this problem is when parents protect their children from the consequences of their own behavior. While you don’t want to let your two year old experience the consequences of running into the street when a car is coming, it probably is a good idea to be a little unsafe when the risk is no more than a skinned knee or falling down and knocking their breath out. Pain is not bad. Damage is bad, and most minor hurts, and even some that seem not so minor, don’t really cause damage that sticks.

Ask yourselves what pain you are protecting your children from and if they might better learn to deal with life by experiencing that pain. Nothing beats experience as a teacher.