Every mother I know (myself most definitely included) spends a good proportion of her day trying to guess the future. What might happen is sometimes even more of a preoccupation than what is actually happening. This is because we will do everything in our (super)power to stop bad things happening to our kids. In effect, we try to fix things before they even happen.
We all do it, but we all need to stop doing it. According to the experts, it’s one of the biggest parenting mistakes we can make.
Kids need to fail small so they can fail big
In a Psychology Today article, Dr Joel Young, Medical Director of the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine, says that while “it can be challenging to watch a child fail—or to wonder if they will succeed”, it’s a necessary part of raising healthy adults.
Because that’s what we’re trying to do, of course, raise adults.
Despite all our talk about ‘raising kids’, it’s actually balanced, thriving adults we’re aiming for.
“Saving your child from consequences and challenges now only ensures he or she will face more challenges down the road,” Dr Young says.
Learning to live with discomfort
“Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems” goes the old adage. The big kids who never experienced and learned from the little problems, are in for a massive shock when the big problems come along. All the little rough bits of childhood teach our kids a heap of very important lessons that build and build to prepare them for life.
This is why it’s so important to let natural consequences occur as they will. We need to stop trying to fix things and instead use the bumps as some solid life lessons.
If our school kid forgets their lunch, they go hungry for a day and very quickly learn to be more diligent in future.
They also learn that they don’t spontaneously combust if they don’t get regular food. Very important lesson there, kids.
If a child doesn’t apply herself to a Science assignment, she quickly learns that only effort is rewarded. When a kid is left off the sleepover list, it’s an opportunity for him to feel the pain of being rejected. When the group is being mean to our child, it’s the way they find out what mean feels like. Being on the receiving end of mean doesn’t feel good at all.
Discomfort with discomfort
Dan Kindlon, child psychologist and author of Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age says that parents’ “discomfort with discomfort” is preventing our children from developing a healthy “psychological immunity”. Just as the physical immune system develops through exposure to pathogens, the psychological immune “system” needs exposure to life’s negative factors in order to grow strong and healthy.
It’s not pleasant. Actually, it’s awful to see our kids feel uncomfortable, troubled or heart-broken, but they simply must be given the space to experience these things. If we swoop in with the lunch box, or do the Science assignment, or even extract an invitation via our good ol’ mother network, it’s not going help our child learn anything.
Developing a growth mindset requires kids to fail sometimes
The number one thing they won’t learn is that bad things happen, but life goes on. This is at the very heart of what it means to be resilient. We can experience bad things today, but we can rise again tomorrow.
We can endure.
While we can certainly pave the rocky road for our child, in the end resilience can’t really be taught, it has to be learned through experience. For every party that we are not invited to, there will be several that we are. A bad mark for one assignment, doesn’t mean you won’t do well when you put effort into the next. And so it goes.
This is the foundation of the ‘growth mindset’ – the current buzz in education and parenting circles (for the record, previous buzz creators have been resilience and grit). Allowing kids to experience failure is one of the keys to later success in life. As Dr Natalie Kerr puts it in a Psychology Today article, “Failure offers tremendous opportunities for growth. Don’t rob your child of those opportunities.”
Every time we try to prevent our kids from failing, we need to stop and reconsider if we are really saving them at all. Chances are that by ‘fixing things’ for them, we are really robbing them of some of life’s most important experiences. Instead, let’s move towards guiding them to learn life lessons while we are still there to hug them through it.
Are you a fixer or a guider?
Image by lionel abrial