Letting Our Children Successfully Fail

Are we allowing our children to experience failure?  Are our constant attempts to rescue our children from frustration creating a generation that is not able to manage or even tolerate distress?  

These are the questions I contemplate as my 10 year old bursts into tears of utter defeat when she is given the task of packing her own suitcase for a vacation.  Complaints of “not knowing what to bring” and not being able to locate an item of clothing are strung together in a high pitch whine that sends our dog into his kennel.  In my state of parental guilt and self doubt, I realize that she has rarely (if ever) packed her own bag as I have micro managed this (and countless other) tasks.


My goal as a parent has always been to raise independent, self reliant humans.  Like most parents, I am forever trying to expose my children to new and valuable experiences.  I have encouraged them to take challenging classes, try new sports, eat weird foods, and make new friends.  I dump on the praise in heapfulls when they work hard and try their best no matter the outcome. But have I been neglecting the day to day tasks that a 10 year old should be completing independently? In a word, yes.  I pack the lunches, make the meals and snacks, do the laundry, and make sure that everyone has what they need at all times. Do you have your goggles/ sunscreen/ permission slip/ homework/ running shoes/ water bottle/ project?  Not only do I ask these questions repeatedly, I write down reminders and place them where my kids will (hopefully) see them.


In the scheme of things, this parenting crime does not seem so large.  I have never counted this one as a “top 5” by any means when I examine my parental mistakes.  Recently, however, I have been reading about the longterm effects of parental “rescuing” and considering moving this infraction onto the list.  Last week, a trusted “mom-friend” sent me eye opening article. The article was titled “Three Parental Acts That Hinder Students from Becoming Leaders” and reminded me of the importance of failure and mistakes.  The author, Tim Elmore, called me out directly. He noted that by not letting our children fail and by solving their problems, we are hindering their ability to become resilient leaders. This trend has been observed in classrooms and college campuses.  Dan Jones, Former president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors,  recently reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education.   He noted:  “Students haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations.”  


In my own home, this has manifested as a meltdown in response to “pack your suitcase.”  

It seems I have forgotten the value of setbacks and failure.  As an adult, I have learned a lot from my own mistakes. In fact, my personal failures have motivated me to be resourceful.  They have given me a sense of empowerment and resolve on many occasions. Surely my children should be afforded this same opportunity.  Providing my children the opportunity to fail will build competence and resilience.

Raising a productive human is a marathon, not a sprint.  There will be times where it is appropriate for me to provide reminders or suggest solutions.  Also, there will be many more times in the future where I force myself to step back and let my children figure it out.  Which, I am happy to say, that I did in response to the suitcase crisis. Of note, my child packed a different set of pajamas for every day and a bathing suit for every day.  It was not a severe consequence that only one pair of underwear and no socks were included as a bathing suit was the daily attire for the duration of the vacation. And, a toothbrush can easily be purchased at a host of locations.

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