It was the morning after Thanksgiving and my daughter volunteered to make organic, honey buttermilk pancakes for the family. Everything started well until Brianna put her first pancake into the frying pan. Things deteriorated quickly. The pan was to hot, the batter was to thick so the outside got done however the inside contained a gooey white substance that was not very appealing. When my children start to groan and moan and utter words of frustration, I find it so hard not to step in and rescue even now when my daughter is 23! So even though I knew better, I called out to her older brother (who by the way is a phenomenal cook) to be her knight in shining armor.
Brianna being the determined person she is, rebuked me and said, “No, I will figure this out myself!” It was hard to watch her struggle but within a short amount of time, her first perfect pancake was on the platter. I could see her pride and the stack of pancakes mount simultaneously! She had done it! She had turned her frustration into a feeling of pride and accomplishment despite my attempts to rescue her.
Research tells us that when parents step in and rescue their child to often, that we violate their needs for autonomy and competence. This can lead to depression, anxiety and lower levels of life satisfaction. Frequently children begin to stop trying, if they foresee that they might fail.
Letting kids fail isn’t going to be a simple switch we throw. It is going to take some tools.
1. Dispel your mistaken belief that you can never do enough, or be enough as a parent. We’re constantly besieged by the fear that we’re not good enough parents. This pushes us to be “ever-present, ever-helpful, ever-reminding, ever-rescuing. “Ask yourself, “How would I be parenting right now if I felt like I was good enough?”
2. Look at the long term consequences. Any time you find yourself getting ready to jump in to rescue or take over a task for your kids, stop and ask yourself, “Are the consequences of the mistake life threatening or permanent?” If the answer is no, hang back. Or ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen if I don’t step in? Can I and my child handle it? Can my kid learn anything from this?” and if the answer is yes, whether that lesson develops a skill or they discover they are more capable than they thought, restrain yourself.
3. Understand that less is more. The less we do for our children, the more competent they become. One University professor complained, “Parents are still calling their kids to wake them up for class.” The more you do for your child, the more entitled and incapable they become. Sometimes we have the mistaken notion that we want to make our kids’ life easier but the truth is, it doesn’t.
4. Celebrate the ordinary! Our culture of expediency and achievement makes many of us feel “that an ordinary life is a meaningless life.” Many of us believe that if we are not extraordinary, no one will love, notice or include us. This notion makes it difficult and sometimes excruciating to let our children fail. Ask yourself, “Can I be happy if my child doesn’t go to Harvard, discover the cure for cancer or dispel the dispute with North Korea?”
5. When your child does fail, say, “That’s great you failed. That means you’re willing to take risks. What did you learn from it?” Or say, “I learned some of my most important lessons from failures.”
6. Bring awareness to why you want to rescue. Is it for selfish reasons like being in a hurry, wanting to take the easier road rather than dealing with the whining, crying and moaning? Do I get a false sense of value by doing things for my child? Do I want to compete with all the other families that appear to be “picture perfect”? Do I believe that my kid’s behavior is a reflection of my own intelligence and ability as a parent?
7. Remind yourself, that failure, when handled correctly. builds character. When you stop and think about, aren’t our failures are biggest teachers?
8. Teach your child that failure is only failure if you use it to discourage yourself. Talk to them about using failure to motivate themselves and trying again doing something differently.
When out of the classroom model, many businessmen know that you fail your way to success. It is far easier to learn how to fail gracefully when the consequences are minimal than when you are an adult and the stakes become higher. So you can relax and start allowing your child to fail. I know it sounds like an oxymoron to say, “A good parent lets their child fail,” but it is true!
Parenting Practice: This week, hang back and let your child fail.
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