Failure is good life lesson

Parent Connection

January 7, 2010 

I have no doubt that some of you have made a few resolutions for the New Year. It's human nature to set admirable goals, but why do people often fail?

Perhaps the busyness of everyday living takes over and resolutions slide away faster that your 10-year-old on his freshly waxed sled.

Then there's the failure of omission. These are the needed changes for the New Year that never get off the ground because they are never even considered.

I have one such omitted practice in mind today that applies to many of today's millennium parents.

Such moms and dads need to add "Allow my child to fail" to their list of New Year's resolutions.

No, I'm not talking about a parent passively looking the other way while little Bradley fails the third grade. What I'm writing about is the trend for parents who work so hard to make sure their child never experiences any failure in life.

This child-rearing mindset puts moms and dads on such overload that other areas of the parents' lives suffer, but it does nothing for the children in the long run.

I spent time with out-of-town extended family over Christmas and was catching up with a relative who teaches in a Montessori elementary classroom. Because the class is made up of the little guys, she gives very little homework.

After having several homework assignments come back in what was obviously the parents' handwriting, the teacher took action. She added a "review the homework with the child session" and graded it accordingly.

Of course, the students knew little because they had not done the homework. Mommy or Daddy did it.

One parent huffily approached the teacher, demanding an explanation of the failing grade. As the teacher confronted the mom and justified her grading, the parent became quite defensive.

"But my child cannot fail," the parent said. "Don't you know how competitive it will be for him to get into college?"

The real issue isn't the child's future but the parent in the here and now.

Such parents can't even fathom the thought of little Bradley or Susie experiencing failure.

It's not limited to education. Parents get overly involved in youth sports, their child's friendships and peer groups and in all kinds of extracurricular activities to ensure that their child is a success. Unfortunately, this mindset and practice can be detrimental for children in the long run.

Children grow up to be teenagers who have no coping skills and can't make good decisions for themselves.

Remember how worried the overly involved "homework mom" was about college? University folks tell me how they are dealing with more and more students who can't cut it because so much has been done for them by their parents.

Never allowing a child to fail may very well lead to dependency instead of a healthy, confident independence that young adults need when they leave the nest. Short-term pains can lead to long-term gains in the realm of parenting.

That's a good reminder for all of us here in our new decade.

Bryan Greeson is a nationally certified school psychologist in Gastonia, N.C. E-mail him at parent

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