Allowing Your Children to Fail to Help Them Find Future Successes

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 would arise. 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, even though I don’t have any other plans yet  that will pay my bills,” said the thirty or forty year old.
  • “Mom, nothing ever goes my way. I always lose out and I can never figure out how to resolve my own problems. It’s their fault, not mine,” said the fifty or sixty 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!

Research has proven that individuals need practice in 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.
  • When there is an issue, 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 his satisfaction, but there will always be a benefit to speaking up for what he feels is right.
  • Remember that, as the adult, you are setting the tone. When a child sees a parent react too 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 existences; 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.

Be well!

Dr. W

 

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Photograph by Noah Hinton.

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