Why You Should Let Your Child Fail The Benefits of Natural Consequences
Watching your child fail makes you feel helpless, angry and sad. You worry about everything from your child’s self-esteem and social development to their future success. James Lehman explains that while it’s natural for parents to worry about failure, there are times when it can be productive for kids—and a chance for them to change.
Parents tell me all the time that they fear their child will fail in life. When I ask them what specifically they’re afraid of their child failing, usually it’s school-related—a certain subject, or perhaps a grade level. The thinking of most parents is, once you start failing in school, it’s hard to catch up. For many parents, it creates a crisis in the family when their child fails in a subject or gets bad grades. And I understand that.
I’d like to talk about the word “crisis” for a minute. It’s often stated that the Chinese symbol for “crisis” is a combination of the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity.” I think that parents see the danger part very clearly in a crisis, but often they don’t see the opportunity: your child has the opportunity to learn an important lesson. The lesson might be about the true cost of cutting corners, what happens when he doesn’t do his best at something, or what the real consequences are for not being productive. It might be a chance for your child to learn the cost of misleading and lying to his parents about how much work he’s actually done or what grades he’s receiving. I think if your child misleads and he gets a failing grade, that’s the natural consequence for his behavior and he should experience the discomfort of his choices.
Many of the parents I see are uncomfortable with this at first. Instead of allowing their child to fail, they try to get the teacher to change the grade. Believe me, if a parent is in the martyr role, they’re going to go up and fight for their child in school—and they’re going to believe they’re right. But sadly, what their child is going to learn is that they don’t have to take responsibility for their ineffective behavior—that somebody else is going to fight for them. Let me be clear: when you try to change the actions of people around your child so he won’t feel disappointed or upset, your child is not going to learn the lesson you imagine he’s going to learn. And not only that, he’s also not going to learn math, or science, or whatever it is he’s been avoiding. Worst of all, he’s not even going to learn to not be duplicitous in the future. What he is going to learn is that “It’s OK. If I screw up enough, Mom will take care of it.” Or “Dad has more power than the teacher, so he can take care of it.”Continued on the next page