Why parents need to let their children experience failure

Once a baby comes into the world, it becomes a parent’s innate desire to protect and support him as he grows. Life has completely changed – now someone’s life depends on you to grow and develop happily. This new responsibility is not a burden; it is something you are willing to do out of love. However, this inherent vow to protect your baby from any harm does not mean you should go over the top and guard him from any possibility of a setback or failure. It means letting them fail safely.

Nevertheless, letting children fail safely is easier said than done. As time goes by, many parents have started to believe that “more” is better- for example: giving “more” praise, helping out “more” so they don’t feel stressed, and the list goes on. Although they have the best intentions, these actions actually backfire. Many parents have a difficult time watching their children “fail.” And who could blame them? All you want to do is see your children succeed, so how could you stand seeing your child struggle? How can you not intervene when you see your child stressed out, sad or anxious by not being able to complete a task? Where are parents supposed to draw the line?

The ideal parent is one who is involved and responsible, but respects his child’s autonomy. Although it may feel uncomfortable, parents need to let their children make mistakes. In fact, letting them learn from their mistakes and failure helps children build resilience – which is an essential part in raising a confident, happy, and successful adult!

We have also talked about the topic of resilience in previous posts, specifically about Carol Dweck‘s research in regards to the damages certain types of praise impose on children.

 

“Resilience is actually built through children coping with occasional bumps, not by only experiencing perfectly smooth rides as they travel through childhood.”- Judith Locke, clinical psychologist

 

Showering a child with compliments can do more harm than good. It may seem contradictory, but praising children’s intelligence, talents, and abilities has been shown to diminish their confidence. Parents should focus on praising their effort instead. As Carol Dweck shows, when parents praise their children’s intelligence, they will be less likely to choose challenging tasks for the risk of losing their “smart” status.

In fact, it has been shown that the happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing themselves. A critical part of growing up is to develop a sense of autonomy, confidence, and mastery. For example, if you treat your walking toddler as if he can’t walk, you will weaken his confidence. If you are always trying to shield and rescue your children, you are depriving them of challenges, which means they are missing out on developing the tools they will need in the future to handle the inevitable and difficult demands of life.

 

The best way to prepare your children for life’s challenges is to provide them with opportunities to develop resilience within a safe, loving, and supportive environment.

Here are some things you should try:

 

  • Be reliable, but not intrusive – Before your parental protection instinct kicks in, ask yourself: can my little one handle this situation safely by himself? Just pay attention to details and be aware of all dangers. A child who desires to do something such as climbing a tree should be allowed to do so – unless, of course, there is an imminent threat such as bees being around and the child is allergic.

 

  • Involve him in the decision-making process – Before making a decision, take your time to present it to your little one. It doesn’t have to be a critical decision; it could be as easy as picking out outfits. By letting your child pick out his own outfit of the day, it will help him learn what makes him feel comfortable and what not. You could also ask him to select the best road to take home. Explain the difference between the two roads and let your child choose. In the end, assess the outcome of taking one route versus the other. In other words, provide feedback of the decision.

 

  • Be patient. Let him solve his own problems – Often parents rush in to help their little one when they are struggling – either due to a lack of time on the parents’ part or because they dislike seeing them struggle. Either way, you should try to let him solve his own problems first or offer to do it together. Whether it’s tying his shoelaces or pouring a glass of milk. It may take your child a few attempts to tie his shoes or even some spills when pouring milk, but it will help him develop self-confidence as he masters a task and is able to figure out things on his own!

 

  • Be a role model – Your child watches you closely every day, so it’s important that you handle your own setbacks gracefully. If you tend to panic every time you are late or misplace your phone, you’re not demonstrating healthy coping skills!  Remember to take responsibility when you forget something. Show your little one that adults make mistakes too and own up to them.

 

Overall, remember that a little disappointment can actually benefit your child – as long as you teach him how to bounce back from it and cope with failure. Learning to deal with setbacks is like learning to ride a bike, you may fall sometimes but you always get back on. By learning to deal with failure your little one will develop important skills he’ll need to succeed, such as creative thinking, problem-solving skills, and emotional resilience!

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