Let Your Kids
Learn To Fail

As parents, we rush to prevent our kids from pain and failure. But if we never let them make their own mistakes, we can never teach them how to recover and move on to success.

Tween with Violin
My grandmother taught my mother how to knit, and my mother would diligently work on sweaters. At the end of the day, my mother would leave her knitting neatly on her desk and go to bed. At night, my grandmother would take the knitting, pick up all the dropped stitches, and fix any other mistakes my mother had made. The next day, the cycle was repeated.

When my mother married and moved out, she continued knitting. But she found that when she picked up her work in the morning, it was still full of dropped stitches and mistakes. She'd never learned how to correct her work, so she simply gave up knitting.

It's incredibly difficult to watch our kids make mistakes. Our instinct is to swoop in and fix things, to prevent our kids from experiencing even the smallest failures. But what price will they pay later for our constant interventions now?

The freedom to fail

Your daughter's math homework is challenging. She's just finished a page of problems after an hour of work, and she's finally taking a few minutes to relax. You check over her work, notice several errors, and correct them. She's put in the effort, after all, and the teacher is a tough grader. Why should she lose points? And besides, she understands the math -- she just made a few mistakes.

True, she might suffer the setback of a poor grade on the homework assignment, but those mistakes might also clue in her teacher on what the student isn't understanding. Or, the sight of that 72 might prompt your daughter to ask some more questions and figure out where she went wrong.

On the other hand, if your daughter thinks she's got this algebra thing under control, you'll both keep doing exactly what you've been doing. So her homework will look great, but her test scores may surprise all of you.

Learn from a loss

Of course you don't want your kid to be afraid to try something new or to feel like he fails at everything, but it's also important to be realistic.

Your 12-year-old's business plan shows initiative, sure, but he's twelve. It's going to be slightly flawed. Don't leap into action to show him what he's done wrong. Worse, don't correct it while he's looking away. Instead, let him see how his mistakes affect his work. Let him mess up, and then let him try to figure out what to do next.

If he comes to you for help, of course you can give it -- but don't do the work for him. Instead, give him the tools to do it himself: show him how to find the information he needs at the library or online; help him locate and solicit mentors in his field.

What's a win?

My mother never taught me to knit. I learned, eventually, from someone else. And when I dropped stitches, no one picked them up for me. After a few misshapen sweaters, I found a book with great illustrations and learned how to pick up stitches and fix other mistakes in my knitting. I'm none the worse for wear, and I take great pride in what I create.

If you don't earn a win, does it really mean anything? Think about the things that matter most to you in life? Aren't they the things that you worked the hardest for? The things you had to overcome setbacks to achieve?

Think of it like this: have you ever failed at something? What happened then? Did you give up forever, or did you work a little harder? Did it destroy your life? Of did it ultimately make you stronger? Your kids are more resilient than you think. Give them a little credit, and they might just surprise you.

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Comments

Comments on "Everyone makes mistakes"

Karen August 27, 2008 | 5:42 PM

I agree with you to a point -- kids need to make mistakes in order to learn. But, it's our job as parents to help them make the right decisions. This summer my 13 year old procrastinated terribly on her reading and book reports. By August, she wasn't even finished the first book. I let her go the entire summer managing her workload her way at her pace, but by August I had to step in. See how I handled it and the lesson she learned: http://buzz.prevention/community/kmwaters/are-book-reports-healthy

molly rambo August 27, 2008 | 3:00 PM

the author is mostly right you should never fix a child's mistakes while they are not looking like the grandmother with the knitting, but i do things a bit different, like with both math and knitting, i always correct my childrens math papers but i don't do the problem for them as when the problem math or knitting is fresh in the mind, with math i mark the ones that are wrong, i do not give them the right answer, i then sit with them and ask them to see where they went wrong, and if they don't see it i will make them look at their math book for examples, and i help, but i do not give answers and they must show their work, if you do it for them they never learn what they did wrong but if you mark the problem like in math wrong while still fresh in their minds and make them do the solution i feel that they learn more with it fresh in their minds, when i teach someone to knit i do the same thing, i am usually right there when i am teaching and i teach one stitch at a time, first i sit there and make sure they know how to preform the stitch then i let them do a row, i check point out the mistake if one was made and the first couple of times i fix it and make them sit and watch, then they have to fix it with me watching on so they do it right, and we progress from their, but i think it is a mistake to let a child go to school with a paper that is wrong without letting them try to correct it while the lesson is still fresh in their minds, because after all i want them to learn the proper steps to get a problem right and practice it so that when the test comes they know how to do a problem, that doesn't mean that they never go to school with papers that have wrong answers, after they should know a task i let them do the paper, point out what ones are wrong and they are on their own on figuring out what the mistake is in that problem and how to fix it as is going to be required of them on the test

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