Much has been written about the attributes of high-achieving adults, and what makes them different from everyone else. But if you're a parent, a more compelling question may be: "What can I do to make sure my kids succeed in life?" While it may seem counter-intuitive, the best thing you can do is let them fail. That's according to Dr. Stephanie O'Leary, a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology, mother of two and author of Parenting in the Real World: The Rules Have Changed. Here are her words about how failure is good for children.
1. Experiencing failure helps your child learn to cope.
The adage "practice makes perfect" applies to coping with failure just as much as it applies to sports, music, and academics. Playing the role of parental protector can interfere with your child's ability to practice being disappointed or emotionally bruised. While the short-term result is more smiles and fewer tears, the long-term consequence is lack of resilience and weak coping skills. Remember that one of the hardest but most important parts of parenting is to tolerate your child's temporary discomfort knowing that it's the only way to build the coping skills necessary to succeed in the real world where no one will be running interference for your child.
2. Hardship builds character.
When kids are sheltered from the temporary hardship of failing they grow up in a bit of a bubble. This prevents them from gaining the life experience they need to relate to peers in a genuine way. It also interferes with the development of empathy and compassion since these sentiments require kids to put themselves in someone else's shoes and emotionally connect with their situation. Without having first-hand experience with failure, it's hard for kids to relate to others who are struggling. The punchline is that allowing your child to fail helps build character and creates opportunities for developing a healthy degree of sensitivity.
3. The older you are the first time you "fall," the longer the drop and the harder the landing.
Letting kids practice failing is an important lesson that is easiest learned early in life. Think about it--the consequences of defeat or failure in preschool or early grade-school are far less dire than the consequences during the teenage years. Being the last pick for the team or getting a low grade on a first grade spelling test is easier to manage than failing a class in high school. There will definitely be tears spilled and egos bruised no matter what age, but the ability to bounce back comes more naturally for younger children. So, start allowing your child to practice falling down and getting back up again as early as possible.
4. Failing teaches your child to persevere.
Parents love nothing more than seeing their kids experience effortless success. That said, few kids--or people for that matter--have the luxury of being the best at everything all of the time. Allowing your child to fail or face the fact that they may not be number one all of the time teaches perseverance. Being challenged instills the need for hard work and sustained efforts, and also demonstrates that these traits are valuable even without the blue ribbon, gold star, or top score. Over time, children who have experienced defeat will build resilience and be more willing to attempt difficult tasks and activities because they are not afraid to fail.
5. Rescuing your child sends the message that you don't trust them.
If you give yourself permission to step back and allow your child to fail, it ultimately sends the message that you trust your child. Your willingness to see your child struggle communicates that you believe they are capable and that they can handle any outcome, even a negative one. All of this is unsaid, but incredibly powerful. Keep this in mind next time you're on the verge of stepping in to save your child from defeat and make a brave parenting choice that will help your child's confidence in the long-run.