Does Raising Children with Compassion make them Ill-Prepared for Living in the Real World?

I often hear the above question, it’s common that those wanting to choose a more empathic and nurturing parenting style are faced with doubt from those who believe that they are somehow doing their children a disservice by ‘pandering to them’ and not raising them to be tough enough to deal with the toughness that life will inevitably throw at them.

Photo by Anna Shvets on

This is a concept I wanted to discuss more in BETWEEN, because I find that the older the child, the more many believe we should toughen them up. The following is an extract from chapter two, where I discuss how mistaken this belief is:

“There is a mistaken belief in our society that children need harsher parenting as they get older. I often read comments from those dismissing a respectful style of parenting saying but the world is tough, you don’t do children any favours by mollycoddling them. It’s better to prepare them for the real world”.

I think what they mean here is that we, as parents and carers, should treat our children harshly to prepare them for the big cruel world they will soon face alone. The presumption being that when they are babies and toddlers it’s OK to be kind to them, but as they get older, we should ready them for independence in the world by being less nurturing.

This is such a ridiculous concept, but a belief that seems to be widespread. The role of parents is to provide a safe harbour for their children, a place that they can be themselves without fear of retribution, in order that they feel confident enough to withstand any negative treatment they may receive from the world when they are older. You don’t make a child confident by trying to diminish their confidence at a young age, you make them insecure and uncertain of their own voice. The best way to prepare children for the reality of the world is to give them the skills and resilience that they need in the safety of their own homes, which comes only when they are raised with empathy and respect. Providing a place where they can share all their emotions, without fear of ridicule or punishment, and receive support for them is the best way to prime children to go into the world with self-control and resilience. Perhaps also, we can hope to raise them to better the world for others too.”

The sad reality, is that while so many believe that the answer to ‘prepare children for the real world’ is to toughen them up (aka treat them more harshly), we will continue to see rising levels of mental health issues, dysfunctional relationships and violence. We have such a tremendous chance to make a lasting difference, not only for our children’s generation, but those who follow, if we could only choose to follow a more nurturing, supportive style of parenting – the style most likely to produce confident, happy, well-adjusted and kind individuals.

If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds, out March 11th ’21. Available to order now in the: UK, Australia, USA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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