Why Parents Should Let Their Kids Fail
Let them fail now so they can be successful later.
Posted September 27, 2021 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
Many of us modern parents do everything in our power to make sure our children are included and that they win. Many of us have tried to protect our children from sadness, frustration, disappointment, heartbreak, and any other non-positive emotion there is out there.
But then something happens when our children turn 18 and they officially become adults. We expect them to be able to go to college and adjust to a greater number of responsibilities, manage their time, advocate for themselves, make appointments with their professors, make friends, change their sheets, and wash their laundry. And we expect them to know how to cope with this big adjustment emotionally.
What can we do, then, to help our children to build necessary skills while developing a sense of independence and self-efficacy before they leave our homes? How can we help our children to build a sense of resilience, buoyancy, grit? What experiences should we give our children? Let's start with the below.
It is Not Your Job to Maintain Your Child’s Happiness
Many of us have worked diligently to plan amazing vacations, birthday parties, and social gatherings for our children. We want to bring them happiness in every part of their daily life. We thrive on going above and beyond to put a smile on our children's faces.
But are we doing them any favors? What are we doing by creating an expectation that we will create the scene for happiness—and all our children have to do is show up?
We are setting up our children to wait for external sources of happiness rather than teaching them to find satisfaction in working diligently on a project, sport, or any skill and watching themselves progress and achieve a goal. How about showing them that happiness starts from within?
We are unintentionally teaching them that the bigger it is (whatever it is), the better. What about finding simple joy in being outdoors and allowing our senses to feast on what nature has to offer? How about finding simplicity in spending time with a friend and bonding, truly enjoying each other’s company? How about watching a movie or show by themselves, or with a family member or friend, and simply enjoying it for what it is?
Engage with your child in simple activities. Bigger is not better and more is not more. Less is more when it comes to helping your children to appreciate their life and to find happiness within themselves, in their environment, and with their people.
Teach Your Child to Self-Soothe
How many of our children get upset and don’t know how to self-soothe? How many of our children get excited and don’t know how to self-regulate? Many children don’t know how to manage their big and small emotions and all the ones in between. Our children often use us, their parents, to pep them up or carry them off the figurative cliff. Our children have yet to find their own thumbs to self-soothe because we continue to pop the pacifier in their mouths every time they make an unhappy peep.
It’s OK if our children are not happy or content or satisfied. It’s OK if they feel unsettled in their skin. It’s OK for them to feel uncomfortable feelings and to struggle with them. These are experiences they need to have because, as we all know, life is not filled with all wins and successes. There are many more failures and these are often what makes our successes that much sweeter.
And how many times have greater ideas and plans come out of ones that failed? Even the most successful people in our country experienced failure quite a bit before they reached their achievements.
Let them Fail; Let them Fall
I don’t need to tell you that life is full of disappointments. I don’t need to tell you that in life, we create our grand plans, and sometimes, life doesn’t take the path we paved in our minds and hearts. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes we try and yet we still fail.
It’s OK for our children to have these experiences. In fact, we want them to have these experiences while they still live under our roof. Let them fail; let them fall. Be there to wipe their tears and comfort them the same way you comforted your toddler when he scraped his knee. Let them feel whatever they need to feel. Listen. Validate. But don’t fix or solve.
As a parent, help your child to talk through his feelings and process a situation out loud. Comfort your child and let them know that you are available to them. But don’t make it your job to make it better by calling the coach, the teacher, or anyone else because things seem unfair to your child and she is upset.
Instead, encourage your child to reach out to his teacher or coach to discuss the problem and decide on an outcome together. These are the life skills that our children will need in the long-term, when they will need to speak to or negotiate with a supervisor, a professor, or process their emotions at times when we can’t be there to guide them through it. Give them the experiences now so they can internalize the dialogue they have with you and turn it into their internal voice.
Although the thought of allowing our children to fail or fall sounds frightening and may even trigger feelings of guilt or shame for you as a parent, know that you are giving your child the very skills they need to grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults.