Updated: Apr 17, 2021
Isn’t it tempting to put things right to help our children? Rectify their mistakes, to save them from the feelings of failure or embarrassment? And it is absolutely fine to help them. But have you ever taken over and just done it for them? Said, “I’ll do it! Leave it to me.”
It is often easier and quicker, that is true! But is it the best thing to do?
Always being there to rescue a child from their own mistakes only teaches the child to become dependent on you. If you do not allow them to make their own mistakes, or put them right, how will they ever be able to learn to make their own decisions, and which choices are good or bad? How can they learn to work out a better way of doing things next time? Doing things for them is not providing them with the tools to become resourceful, problem solvers, emotionally intelligent or streetwise.
Making their own mistakes along the way and trying to discover how to put them right is part of their growing up and learning process. And if we don’t allow them to do this, we are in fact ‘stunting’ their emotional growth and development.
In being shown that you will do everything for them, they will learn that someone will always take over - so making mistakes in life won’t matter. They won’t learn to take responsibility, for themselves or for their actions. They may not even be able to see or accept that it was a mistake as there will not be any comeback or consequences, because you have sorted it out, not them. And certainly, they will not learn the skills to enable them to go through the process of thinking what they could have done differently or how to put the mistake right. It is much better to let them make their own mistakes, then support them to find ways to put those mistakes right. If you put the mistakes right for them, they will always expect someone to be there to bail them out.
We all want our children to be alert and know what to do to keep themselves safe. But this involves them taking risks. If as parent’s we don’t allow children to take risks, how will they learn to be able to spot good and bad choices? How will they learn that some risks are ok, but others are not, if they don’t experience the consequences? How will a child be able to understand that if they fall, they will get hurt, if we never allow them to fall?
A really good example of this is the parent who is always just half a step behind their child in the adventure playground. Children need to learn to navigate the children’s playground on their own.
If you are there right behind them to stop them from falling, they will never have the chance to experience what it is like to fall. So, it will in fact have the reverse effect and may even mean that they take even greater risks later in life, as they won’t have experienced the dangers or consequences.
And, yes, this needs to be within reason and age appropriate, of course! I don’t mean to let them get badly hurt. Just to experience what will happen if they go too far! This will, help them learn to assess risk for themselves.
How can a child learn to be confident in their own abilities if you don’t let them use, or try out their abilities? A child’s natural instinct when they fall will be to save themselves in some way - but if you are always there to catch them, they will lose that natural instinct and will lose the ability to work it out for themselves.
They will begin to realise that whatever they do they will come to no harm! Sometimes they need that bump, or shock, in order to learn that they’re not invincible!
It is really all about managing risk. Not avoiding it.
We should ensure that they are safe, assess the risk, but allow them to experience failure and falling too. And the same can be said in many areas as they grow and learn. Friendships are often a place where children learn a lot about making mistakes or good and bad choices.
Have you ever wanted your child to avoid mixing with the wrong group of friends? I’m guessing we all have! But if we choose our children’s friends for them, how will they learn the skills that are necessary for them to judge what makes a good friend? How will they be able to learn to tell who or what are the good or bad influences around them. If they cannot learn through experience, both good and bad, how will they know who to trust, what or who to avoid or which people are good to associate with, later in life or how to cope when things do go wrong?
Better that we steer them in the right direction but allow them to experiment and choose their own friends too. Then we help them to navigate the hurdles, help them to deal with their emotions and talk to them about the things they learn, so they can learn to make better choices or successfully manage the choices they make.
When a child is growing up, taking risks and trying things out, this is them learning and practising being an adult. So, if we are interfering and doing it for them all the time, mopping up their emotional spillages, clearing up their mistakes, sorting out their problems and eliminating life’s risks, then we are not allowing them to practise!
So, don’t do all this for them. Do it with them, allow them to try, to take risks and make mistakes. Then talk it through with your child. Praise the good choices. Ask what they felt they could have done differently. And notice I said what they could have done ‘differently’, not what they could have done ‘better’. Then chat with them about how this may have made the outcome different.
And finally, after your discussion, ask them what they have learned. And praise them for their learning.
This will earn you their trust and respect. And it will result in you having succeeded in helping your child to learn resilience, to assess risk and make good choices.