There comes a realization in every parent that raising their children is one of the most difficult and important jobs they will ever have. To that end, parents often try to make life easier for their children than perhaps their own life was growing up. That creates a delicate balance between doing everything for your child and letting them do everything for themselves and learn by trial and error.
Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships and interfere on the playing field. Overparenting has the potential to ruin a child’s confidence and undermine their education.
Many parenting experts propose that parents allow their children to fail at tasks from time to time. The best time for this is during the critical early years when parents must learn to allow their children to experience the disappointment and frustration that occur from life’s inevitable problems so that they can grow up to be successful, resilient, and self-reliant adults.
Letting kids practice failing is an important lesson that is easiest learned early in life. The consequences of defeat or failure in preschool or early grade-school are far less dire than the consequences during the teenage years. Being the last pick for the team or getting a low grade on a first-grade spelling test is easier to manage than failing a class in high school. There will be tears spilled and egos bruised no matter what age, but the ability to bounce back comes more naturally for younger children.
It is through trial and error that children can become resilient adults. So how do parents teach kids to fail?
♦ Step back and allow kids to fail.
It can be very tough to watch your child fail, but he can only learn how to handle disappointment through trial and error. Parents must stop hovering. Otherwise, they rob children of the very experiences that require problem-solving that can put them on the path to resilience and the confidence to take on new challenges.
♦ Let small mistakes happen.
Start small by allowing children to experience the natural consequences of their missteps. Resisting the urge to rush back to school to bring them the homework or backpack they left on the kitchen counter gives kids a chance to learn from their mistakes.
♦ Make it a teachable moment.
A child’s failure is a chance for parents to teach acceptance and problem-solving skills. You and your child can try to come up with what she could do the next time for a better chance at success. For instance, could she study differently or talk to the teacher about any problems she’s having before a test?
♦ Show empathy.
Empathize with your child when you see that he’s in distress. Don’t just say, “It’s okay, you’ll do better next time.” Don’t brush off a child’s feelings of frustration and disappointment. Instead, change the language you use when you respond: “I see you’re really disappointed, I know you really wanted to do better.”
♦ Make yourself a model.
You can explain that failure is a part of life and happens to everyone, even you. Share examples of “failures” you’ve had such as losing out on a promotion at work. Help your child understand the consequences of mistakes, provide feedback about challenging situations, provide emotional support when he encounters failure, praise effort toward addressing challenges, and make sure your children know they are loved unconditionally.
Giving your child the gift of failure will ensure that she will learn through trial and error and grow up to become a resilient adult ready to take on the world.