Parents

Allowing Your Children To Fail Will Help Them Succeed

No one is meant to have problem-free experiences.
04/26/2017 07:11pm ET | Updated April 28, 2017
Photograph by Noah Hinton

I get it.

I, too, would love to spare my children adversity, unpleasantness, or failure of any kind. (And, mind you, this statement is coming from a woman whose children are all adults, some with children of their own!) Yet, when I stop and really give these feelings adequate time and contemplation, I must accept the fact that, were I to follow through on these urges, it would be to make me always feel needed, rather than for my children to grow and learn. And it would certainly be to their detriment.

If I solve all the problems, I am perpetually the knight in shining armor. Constantly in need, I’d have those children always clamoring around me looking for the answers to any problems that arose. Just like when they were little, they would be dependent upon me for everything. But this is not a pretty picture for an adult.

  • “Mom, I deserved a better grade on this assignment. Will you call the teacher and complain; she doesn’t know anything,” said the student of any age.
  • “Mom, my boss isn’t nice to me. I’m going to quit my job and move back in the house until I find another job,” said the 30- or 40-year-old.
  • “Mom, I can’t make my house payment, and your grandkids want to go to camp. I told them you’d help pay for it,” said your 50-year-old.

Letting children learn to solve their own problems, or face unpleasant consequences, may not be fun for anyone, but it will teach a very important lesson: “I can do this!” In fact, research has proven that individuals need practice solving their own dilemmas in order to develop resiliency and mental toughness. And, as a parent, if you establish this practice now, the result will be happier, more confident children who have learned that they are capable of finding answers to their own problems.

  • Try asking a child how a problem should or could be handled, rather than offering a solution. Let the child be the “detective” and search for the best resolution.
  • Teach a child how to have a respectful, appropriate conversation with another person, whether peer or adult. Make sure the child understands that there is no guarantee that the talk will result in an outcome to their satisfaction.
  • Remember that, as the adult, you are setting the tone. When a child sees a parent react strongly, it can actually do more harm than good. Children learn from the words and actions of their parents; do your best to provide the example from which you want your child to learn.
  • Learn, and teach your children, strategies to calm down. Paying attention to your breath, journaling, listening to calming music, or turning off all technology and giving yourself a few minutes to “be” rather than “do” are all possible options to reduce anger.

No one is going to have problem-free experiences; we will all experience the typical ups and downs of daily life. Blaming someone else, being consumed by anger, or letting one, or a few, negative encounters color future endeavors are all unconstructive options. Teach your children to be their own problem solvers, and enjoy watching them find success.

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