Let Your Kids Make Mistakes

Teach Your Kids to Succeed by Allowing Them to Fail

mother helping son with homework
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It's hard to sit back and watch your children make mistakes. After all, isn't your job as a parent to protect them, build them up and help them learn how to do things perfectly? But in fact, children and teenagers need to learn how to fail as much as they need to learn how to succeed.

Why Let Kids Make Mistakes

The old adage about learning from our mistakes is true. When kids make mistakes they learn things not just about themselves, but about the people around them.

Encourage your child to make mistakes. She'll learn what her strengths are, and what are things she needs to work on. And she'll learn that you'll still support her when she's not perfect.

But there's a right way and a wrong way to let children make mistakes. For many parents, this is the hard part. Ideally, you want them to learn from their mistakes. So you need to teach them to make mistakes, just as you would teach any other skill.

How to Let Kids Make Mistakes

Teaching your child to make mistakes doesn't mean setting them up to fail. It means setting them up to do things on their own. A lot of parents are quick to jump in with little corrections to projects ("Here, let's just straighten that piece out and glue it here") or to fix homework questions when they're wrong ("Oh, you need to look at number four again, you didn't do it right. Oh, never mind, I'll just fix it real quick."). But allowing your kids to make mistakes means learning to back off a little and bite your tongue.

Here are some ways to practice:

  • Let your child do her own thing. Whether it's an art project, a science experiment, or simply a drawing of a monster, sit back and let her create her vision and let her have the satisfaction of an independent result.
  • Monitor, but don't do, your child's homework. Let's face it, the teacher wants to know what knowledge your child has obtained or areas in which he needs some more work. It's OK to answer questions and you should definitely make sure his homework is finished, but don't correct mistakes. When your child knows his homework isn't right, that's the time to help teach him the skill, not show him that you know how to do it.
  • Don't be so quick to jump to the rescue. Your child needs to learn how to be a problem-solver. Maybe she did leave her lunch on the kitchen counter or her science book at school. Instead of hopping right into the car to bring her lunch over or grab the science book, let her come up with solutions herself. She may call you for her lunch or eat school lunch. She may want to get her book or she may borrow it from a friend or work out a solution with the teacher. You won't know what she can do until you let her try.
  • Be a guide. In school, your child is probably doing a lot more learning by inquiry, that is, being led to find the answer rather than being taught by rote. It is something you can do at home, too. Phrases like "What do you think?" or "How could we figure that out?" can help your child learn to how to learn.
  • Let them lose a game. It's very tempting to throw a game of checkers or not make your best move in some other strategy game you're playing in order to let your child win. But, a win that's not earned isn't really a win. Losing at strategic games helps kids learn how to strengthen their strategies and see that they can learn from other people.

It's not easy to sit back and watch your child's frustration.

The best you can do is prepare for the possibility and know how you'll redirect your child when he does fail. As author Vic Johnson once put it, "In life, there are no mistakes, only lessons."