Let Your Child Fail

Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I want to talk about letting your child fail. I think, as a parent, this was the hardest thing for me to do. Every time my daughter was hurting or struggling with a problem, I really wanted to make it better for her because seeing her hurting is so hard. And the truth is that hasn’t gotten any easier now that she is an adult. Loving someone as deeply as we love our children means that we will suffer when they suffer. But we have to let them fail.

Why?

The quickest way to make your kid existentially impotent is to helicopter parent them. That’s right. Want to be sure that your kid can never do anything without you? Just hover over them and do everything for them. That’ll keep them from learning! But seriously… You need to give your kids room. Some where along the way, our culture has become afraid. We’ve become afraid of everything. So afraid that we want to stuff our kids into bubbles that will keep everything from ever hurting them and will let them be kids forever. Everything has to have round edges and padding. Well, that isn’t doing them any favors.

Kids learn how to be adults while they are still kids.

Remember that it is your kid that is in the band or what ever activity, not you. Don’t live through your child. Doing so will make it all too easy for you to get way too wrapped up in their world. They need to be the one responsible for remembering to bring their sheet music to the concert, not you. If they forget it, they need to be the one that explains why they don’t have it to their teacher, not you. And don’t bail them out. Who will bail them out when they forget important paperwork when they are a working adult? Faltering and failing now will help them learn those important skills now, while it really doesn’t matter, rather then trying to learn those skills when it can cost them their job.

Support your kids, but let them fight their own battles. If they feel the teacher gave them an unfair grade, they need to be the one that goes to the teacher to discuss the lower then expected mark. Again, they need to learn to advocate for themselves now. They need to learn how to respectfully question authority. They need to learn how to take criticism and accept when they do not get the desired outcome (the teacher doesn’t raise their grade). These are battles they need to fight on their own behalf. It is a rare thing that a parent should be involved in these kinds of conversations. You’re not your kid’s lawyer. You’re not being paid to represent their case. You’re their parent and it’s your job to teach them important skills they’ll need as an adult.

Let your kid fail.

This is the most powerful teacher. Failure sucks balls and no one likes it. But it is what shapes us. It teaches us so much (as children and adults). Kids need to learn how to handle failing. They need to learn how to manage their own affairs and the only way for them to do that is to get in there and try. And well, that takes practice. Which means there will be a ton of failing along the way. But that is what childhood is for. These are the safe years. Not because they are some magical time of fluffy rainbows filled with stories of Easter Bunnies and candy. They are the safe years because when they fall flat on their faces it is unlikely to effect their lives in any lasting way. If you keep them from doing this as a child and all those failures happen when they are adults, those failures will carry much heavier weight. Additionally, facing failure is also about learning to take risks. A fundamental part of adult life is risk taking. Starting a new project or taking a new job are both risks. And they could both fail. These are scary things or exciting things or both. Teaching kids how to handle failure will shape how they approach risk taking.

Set the standard and expect your kid to meet it. Let them figure out how. They don’t need you to micro manage them. Don’t track their homework. You don’t need to know their schedule. These are things that they need to figure out how to do so that they can meet the expectation of being academically successful. The same goes for everything else. Give them chores and other tasks. Expect them to get these things done on time and in the manner they should be. Don’t check on their progress or nag them. When they are due to be done, then check on it. That’s when the reckoning comes. Just like when you are an adult. This is about teaching them accountability. They are responsible for their own shit.

Teach your children by example. Remember that your kids will mimic what you are. You want them to be organized? Keep your house in order and keep yourself on schedule. If you are late for everything, it will be more difficult for them to learn time management skills. Teach them to be resilient by teaching them that they don’t have to be perfect. Let them see you fail. You’re human and that’s ok. Let them know that’s ok. Let them see you dust your self off, learn from your error and move on. If you do this, they will be more likely to do the same.

Teach your child empathy and compassion.

When you helicopter your kid, you risk teaching them that they are the center of the world. They can learn a sense of entitlement; a sense that the world owes them. This will serve them poorly in life. It will drive a wedge deeply between them and others. This makes relationships very hard. Instead, expect your children to see that other people matter as well. You cannot always do things for them because you are doing things for yourself or other people. And they should be expected to help other people as well. Empathy and compassion are things that kids are born with, but if they are not nurtured, they will wither on the vine.

Say thank you. Don’t forget to teach gratitude. Point out to your child the wonderful things around you. Tell them the things that you are grateful for. Thank them for the things that they do and the effort that they put forth (even if it doesn’t turn out well). With this, express your love. Tell your kid that they are valued and that the world that you both live in has value. Share with them all the awesome things you enjoy. Give them love and beauty.

When they fail, help them evaluate what went wrong. Encourage them to problem solve about how they can do things differently to have a different or better out come in the future. Make sure that they know that failing doesn’t diminish your love for them. This teaches them that their work productivity doesn’t equate to their personal value. A lesson I think many of us Americans need to go back to.

This idea applies to both neurotypical and neurodivergent children. Just know that it is really likely that if your child is a different neurotype then you that they will go about doing things in a different way then you. And that’s alright. Instead of judging the process, ask if they are meeting the objectives of the task. If they are, then it doesn’t matter how they got there. Well, provided it is safe. I mean we don’t want to encourage them to use explosives to solve any of their problems. No matter how effective or satisfying that solution might be.

So, yeah. That’s about all I got on this topic for now. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. I hope that you all find peace and wellness. Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

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