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Friday, July 1, 2011

Letting Kids Fail in Order to Succeed


As parents we want our kids to succeed in things, we also want to help them in any way we can. But sometimes the best way to help them is to get out of their way and let them fail at something or try new things without us. Sometimes we have to give children the ability to fail.  

The other day I was watching my son at swim lessons. He has been struggling with floating on his back and the back stroke. He was in the middle of the pool in water that I took to be over his head. The poor kid was attempting to keep himself afloat on his back, not easy when your body fat is next to zero. He was also trying to do his back stroke. He was sinking, butt first, looked like he was gasping for breath. I thought, my God, he is drowning. Why doesn’t that swim teacher/life guard jump in and help him. It took every fiber of my being to let my little one work it out for himself.

My motherly instincts wanted to jump right in and take care of him, but would that have been the right decision? What would he have learned? His swim teacher did jump in the water and walked over to him, whence I realized that my son could tippy toe on the bottom.  I so glad I did not jump in, after all at the swim lessons we go to, every swim instructor is also a life guard. But the real reason I am glad I did not jump in to save  my son is that he was able to learn through failing. In his failure he learned what does NOT work and how NOT to swim. Even though he did not do well at the back stroke he participated in his first triathlon.

I also believe in letting my kids learn the a lesson at school. If you tell me on Sunday night at 9pm that you have a diorama due tomorrow, that you have known about for two weeks I am not going to rescue you. I will help you BUT I am not doing your project for you. I will give you the materials that I have available but I am not driving to the store at 9pm to look for materials for you. When this happened to my middle daughter she had to make a diorama on polar bears. She had  turned in the paper a full week early and had forgotten about the diorama until the she went to bed that Sunday night. With, raiding  my craft supplies she managed to create an absolutely wonderful exhibit with her ten facts about Polar Bears that we needed. Thank goodness for my well stocked library, we had the books she needed to find the information she wanted.  Pumpkin ended up getting a good grade, but I did not rescue her that night either.

When I first started driving, my first car was a standard. I had learned on an automatic. My father handed me the keys and said go learn. Actually he told me to go drive the fire roads in the state forest near our house. Lots of long dirt roads. I had a 5 speed,  I spent the better part of a day out in the forest driving around with my best friend to keep me company.  When I got the car stuck in a ditch, my friend and I hiked out of the forest to the nearest house of someone we knew.  I guess that is why my Dad sent me to the Sate Forest. He knew that I could always walk home or back to someone else's home. He had faith in me that at 17 I was smart enough to figure things out for themselves and when I got into a problem to think my way out.  Our friend grabbed his Subaru and winch and pulled me out the ditch. My Dad never knew I had a problem until I got home, and I had learned how to drive a 5 speed.

Lessons Learned from Failing

If you come to your child’s rescue every time and immediately if they have a small problem, that is what they will learn. Mom or Dad will recue me when there is a problem. I don’t have to figure it out for myself.  You will end up handicapping your child instead of raising self-reliant, mature, individuals.  I challenge you this, next time your kid needs  your help, wait 5 minutes before you rescue them. You will be surprised at how they solve their own problems.

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What's Cookin Stacey?? said...

I am so guilty of feeling like I have to "save" my kiddos. Great post! It is so hard sometimes to watch and not act.

Lisa - the Granola Catholic said...

Yes, Stacey, I had to make my self sit on the bleachers at swim that day. That and letting my 13 year old travel alone are two of the hardest things I have had to do so far as a parent, but hopefully each little way I let go of my kids and allow them to fail will allow them to grow.

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