It’s Okay To Let Kids Learn From Their Mistakes

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Vanessa Lobue

THE experience of having children is something that many of us have in common. In fact, in the United States, about 66% of women between the ages of 30 and 34 have children, and that number jumps to 80% if you’re between the ages of 35 to 39, and 85% if you’re over 40. Despite having this shared experience, no two parents approach raising children in exactly the same way. There are many modern terms for different types of parenting styles; perhaps you identify with “free range parenting”, or “attachment parenting”, or maybe you like to think of yourself as a “tiger mom.” Among these new terms, the one that you are likely to hear the most about is called “helicopter parenting.”

The term helicopter parenting was coined in the 1990’s, and generally applies to parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives, especially in academic and achievement related activities.

Having involved parents is generally a good thing, and in fact, helicopter parenting has been associated with some positive parenting behaviors, such as frequent advice-giving and providing children with emotional support.

But, constantly hovering can also come at a cost. As children get older, they seek out more independence, and it can be a challenge for any parent to slowly relinquish control. This is especially difficult for helicopter parents who tend to claim a large amount of control over their children’s academic lives.

It turns out that children need to make mistakes to learn. For example, every typically developing baby will one day face the challenge of learning to walk. Importantly, walking isn’t something babies learn to do in just one day-it takes days and weeks and months, with a lot of steps and falls along the way.

So what do we do? We do perhaps the most difficult thing a parent can do- we let our children fail once in awhile. By not allowing them to fail, we prevent them from learning how to flexibly deal with problems, and perhaps even how to deal with difficult emotions.

Babies don’t mind making mistakes, but as they get older, children eventually learn to associate making mistakes without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.

To avoid promoting these emotions, when children do mess up, gentle discipline coupled with support and feedback can help both provide them with the right expectations and support autonomy at the same time.

Researchers have even suggested that parents try to model mistake-making for their kids, and some school interventions teach teachers to make grammatical mistakes on purpose and let children catch them. Despite differences in parenting style, what all parents want-helicopter, tiger, and free-range alike-is what’s best for our kids.

And sometimes what’s best for promoting their success is letting them experience their own failures.

  • The article first appeared in Psychology Today

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