by Sarah Sanburn, LPC
We live in a culture that praises the active and invested parent, in my over 10 years of working with children and families I have seen an increase in the parent’s participation. It’s been wonderful to see parents become more interested in their children’s lives and more attuned to how they are feeling. However, when involvement becomes parental interference, it can be at the expense of the child and parent's mental health. The extreme cases of this were seen in the news when wealthy parents were caught buying and bribing their children’s way into top schools. In daily interactions, teachers, administrators and school counselors often see parents calling to solve problems for their children. I know from my own parenting the pressure we feel to help our children live pain-free lives. Here is the case for allowing children to fail.
As parents, we want to see our children live full, happy lives and it can easily feel like removing obstacles is a way to support our children. However, when we remove the learning experiences that failure brings for children, we are not allowing them to fully grow and develop into their authentic selves. I see these tendencies to bulldoze problems increasing the perfectionistic tendencies of our children as well. When they easily overcome everything that they set out to do, they don’t develop a growth mindset and instead begin to expect perfection from themselves.
By allowing our children to fail, within an environment of empathy and unconditional love, we set them up to increase flexibility and grit. As I raise my two-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter I have plenty of practice in this any time we go to the park, or really anywhere for that matter! When my two-year-old goes to climb up the same play structure his older sister does I do not go behind him and help him up the whole way to the top. I will allow him to try independently first, encouraging his attempts and validating moments he struggles. If I were to automatically help him to the top, he would not have gained the confidence that comes from overcoming a challenge or trying something new.
This also shows up as my seven-year-old enters the world of competitive sports. I have often heard parents screaming from the sidelines, walking over to talk to their kids on the bench mid game and at times even asking the coach for more field time. These well intended parents are giving their children the message that they don’t think they can handle it on their own and that perfection is a top priority. While the parent’s intention is to do what is best for the child, the impact can be an increase in anxiety. Instead of inserting ourselves into each issue our children face, we can choose to support our children as they learn to face life's challenges. When little league feels overwhelming and it’s going to be a tough game we can give children the support, love and encouragement they need without solving the problems for them.
Kids love to hear how adults make mistakes also, it gives them a template to learn from and normalizes failing. I often like to use car rides to talk with my kids, as we always have some place to go and I know there are much fewer distractions, it gives a good set up for healthy conversations. I will bring up to my daughter what the most challenging part of my day was, how it felt to fail at something new, and what I learned from the experience. This has become a favorite past time and my daughter now lights up any time I tell her about a mistake I’ve made. I will also check in about what she felt when she faced something challenging, how good it felt to overcome the obstacle or her feelings about the difficulty in having to walk away from something and what she learned.
There are many ways to allow your children the space to develop a growth mindset through mistakes. Offering genuinely challenging tasks to children based on their age and skill is a great way to grow a growth mindset. For instance, you can empower them to seek out a difficult class, a new sport or hobby, or meeting new friends. Allowing children to face failure with a supportive and loving safety net, allows them to develop courage, confidence to overcome a challenge, and bravery- all things we want for our children as they grow into wonderful adults.
JENNIFER EULBERG, MA, LPC
Welcome Jennifer, our new blogger!
Jennifer is a counselor at Sandhill who specializes in depression, self-esteem, and grief & loss. Get to know Jennifer as she shares her perspectives on life, contemplates value themes, and offers gentle encouragement.
THANK YOU to Stefanie Pisarkiewicz, LPC for her blog contributions from November 2014 - February 2019!