Self Esteem
About Judy
Press Room
Speaking Services

Got A Question?

click here

© 2001-2003
Judith Loseff Lavin
Links to Resources
My Story
Problem Solvers
The Chat Club
Parent to Parent
Contact Judy

The Dangers of Coddling

By Judy Loseff Lavin, M.S.W.
Author of Special Kids Need Special Parents

“My parents tried not to shield me from the real world.” Those are the words of Major League pitcher Jim Abbott. He believes his parents’ attitudes laid the foundation for his success. “I wasn’t treated as unique because I lacked a right hand. My parent encouraged me to participate in whatever I chose to do.”

Abbott, as well as others who have special needs, feel strongly that the coddled child does not grow to be emotionally healthy. He grows up fearful and lacking in a sense of what he can or cannot accomplish. Ironically, he also can become self-absorbed which will stand in the way of his ability to have empathy. Empathy is a learned behavior: it does not come naturally. In order to be an emotionally healthy adult, you must develop this critical virtue. Parents need to teach their children how to feel for others and one way to do that is avoid coddling their child.

It is often difficult to avoid coddling or pitying your child when you see him struggling to do ordinary things. As a parent, it rips your heart out. It is important to draw a line between the natural and necessary compassion you feel for your child and feeling sorry for him. Kids are keenly tuned into their parents’ attitudes. They can learn to manipulate their parents because they realize that they are pitied. This can lead to their attempts to manipulate others in the same way. A child who senses his parents’ pity is bound to use it to their advantage. If she is catered to just because people feel sorry for her, she soon believes she’s entitled to special treatment and can become obnoxious when she doesn’t get it. She may grow up bitter, unhappy and unable to appreciate good people or good things. She may become someone who can’t tolerate disappointment and often, other people. The pitied person doesn’t work towards goals. She has never been taught to do so. Instead, she may learn to manipulate or connive. She may become someone people shun. Ironically, people who are coddled don’t even appreciate or respect those who coddled them.

It is important to challenge children to do all they can for themselves. “When I used to try to do something for Tricia because I felt so sorry for her, my daughter Rachel would say, ‘She must do it for herself.’ I went along with my daughter’s wishes, even though, getting her to do things for herself was a fight because she cried,” said Grandma Lima, whose granddaughter has a rare condition called Charge Syndrome, which causes blindness, decreased hearing or deafness, heart and breathing problems. “I think Tricia’s doing for herself helped her the most.”

The job of any parent is to prepare our kids for life the best way we possible can. Parents soon learn this is the most difficult job in the world and often a very unpopular one. This is true for any parent, regardless of the circumstances. However, as long as we remember that we are here to guide them and help them find their way, we will succeed. Parents are often saddened when they realize they can’t always be a “best friend” to their child. This is especially true in the case of a special needs child, who’s daily struggles can wear at the most effective parent. In the long run, they will flourish with your guidance, wisdom and love and the pain you may experience now will be exchanged for a lifetime of pride and joy at their successes.

Judith Lavin, M.S.W., author of Special Kids Need Special Parents, and a former journalist with the Chicago Sun-Times, recognized the need for an easy-to-read resource for physically and emotionally exhausted parents like herself, as well as their families, teachers, doctors and others who work with them. Lavin speaks to numerous organizations and parent groups around the nation, giving them inspiration and hope.

Lavin’s work has been featured in numerous publications such as the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday, Washington Parent and Chicago Parent. In addition, she has appeared  on radio and TV news and talk shows around the U.S., including NBC-TV's Today show, PBS-TV's Small Talk for Parents and the CBS Radio Networks. You can visit Judy at