Why Great Parents…..Let Their Kids Fail

After spending the last 5 weeks talking all about Early Retirement – I’m dying to get back into talking about kids financial literacy, and more ways for us parents to give our kids the tools they’ll need to lead a financially secure and fulfilling life.

This week we’re going to delve into the topic of failure, and why exactly we should actively ensure our kids are experiencing it in various capacities throughout their lives.

The Challenge To Failing

First off – let’s address the fact that 21st century parents SUCK at letting their kids fail. Not only are we helicopter parents who seem determined to prevent our kids from developing any type of independent life skills, we also ensure that anytime the emotion of frustration comes close to entering their radar, we solve their problem. Immediately. (Generally without solicitation for help.)

Oh honey – do you want me to open that for you?

Oh sweetie – do you want to me to do your hair?

Oh darling – would you like me to tie your shoes for you?

They probably haven’t even SAID anything at this point – maybe just uttered a mildly perturbed grunt, or the trace of a scowl has glanced across their face.

We are ALL guilty of doing this – BUT allowing ourselves to take this approach will slowly groom our children into people who at the first sign of difficulty will immediately EXPECT someone to solve their problem. They will become the quintessential anti-DIY’er.

And frankly – they’ll have us to thank for it.

Now – there’s absolutely a time and a place to provide assistance to our kids (in fact, when they are young, it’s most of the time), but falling for the easy option of doing things immediately – before they can even make a halfway concerted attempt to figure it out, is robbing them of essential life skills.

So – probably not a surprise to any of us, but the biggest challenge in letting our kids fail – is us.

It’s all about biting our tongues, holding back, and letting them develop some good old fashioned grit.

I know it’s hard as a parent – we all want our kids to experience success, to feel happy and excited about their accomplishments. But here’s the thing – if we do everything for them, it’s not their success or accomplishment. It’s ours, and we are stealing it away from them.

When you look at it like that – seems a little less helpful, and perhaps downright mean!

But that’s not the only challenge we are facing when it comes to letting our little ones face plant into the proverbial mud puddle. There’s an added layer of difficulty that has presented itself for parents, and that is the era of double income families, and crazy schedules.

There is not enough time in the day for many families, and it is ALWAYS easier (and often more importantly – faster) to do it yourself than wait for your child to figure it out (at least at first).

This is where the ability to see things with a long term perspective comes in really handy.

While it may be easier/faster NOW to just do everything for them, if we make the front end investment of stepping back and letting our kids put their skills (and our guidance) into practice, ultimately life will not only be better for THEM, it will actually be EASIER for us!

Who doesn’t like a win-win investment?!

How much faster is it if your child can put their shoes, coat and backpack on, and be ready to walk out the door when you are?

What about teaching your kid to make their own breakfasts/lunches and pack their school bag? It might be slow at first, and require a lot of close supervision and guidance, but once they have it, how much easier did your mornings just get?

If they forget to pack their lunch once or twice, trust me, they won’t starve to death. They might be a liiiittttlleeee bit hangry when they get home – but odds are they won’t continue to repeat their mistake.

Which leads me to the first reason you should let your kids experience failure.

Failure Generates VIVID & MEMORABLE lessons

I can pretty confidently say that we all have MANY lessons from our childhood/teen years that none of us will ever (ever ever) forget.

For instance – I will never again try to convince my brother to jump off a barn roof with multiple branches of leaves in order to determine if we could replicate flight. I paid dearly for that moment of genius (rightly so – sorry bro! Don’t worry – he survived without any broken limbs).

Or how about the fact that I will never again drive over a cement barricade that is higher than the clearance of said vehicle. (That one seems obvious – but clearly I needed to learn it the hard way).

Or my long standing rule that I will not allow myself to become unprofessional or rude with a client, no matter how wrong or belligerent they are. The guilt and anxiety over losing my cool and risking my job most definitely did not outweigh the immediate (but momentary) gratification of telling someone just what kind of loser they are, nor where exactly they can feel free to shove it.

Oh and I will never again drink Tequila. Ever.

Failures – they tend to remain vivid in our memories, along with their consequences. They are more effective than hours upon hours of “parental guidance” aka, lectures.

Failing Forces Their Hand

Failures also create an experience where we get to make an internal choice about what we do next. Do we allow the negative emotions of failure to overtake us? Do we wallow in self-pity, or do we collect ourselves and analyze how we can succeed on our next attempt?

We all have an individual way we respond to and deal with failure. Some of us are naturally much more gracious at accepting failure and moving forward than others at it, but for those of us that lack that natural ability to dust ourselves off, luckily it is a skill that can be developed.

While we can’t necessarily immunize ourselves entirely from the psychological impacts of failure, through trial, error and experience, our kids can become extremely adept at navigating and managing those emotions.

Failure Builds A Sense Of Ownership

When you fail and learn to try again, it forces you to look at the aspects that are within your control. You can stand there and try your darnedest to blame everyone else, or every other factor available, but at the end of the day, if you want to change the outcome you’ve got to focus your attention on what is within your ability to change.

Generally that focus starts within, and that’s an approach our current society could really benefit from not only our kids perfecting, but everyone, learning how to do well.

What did I do to contribute to the failure, what is within my control to modify or change, how can I fix it moving forward.

Learning a sense of ownership early in life can immunize our kids to the vulnerability of falling prey to the victim mentality. Helplessness is painful and debilitating place for anyone to find themselves, let alone our children.

Failure In Relation to Finance

When it comes to money – far too many parents don’t even give their kids a chance to engage with money, let alone fail with it.

Childhood/teen years are the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.

A time frame when we are talking about making bad decisions with tens (maybe hundreds) of dollars instead of thousands (or tens of thousands!). A time when poor choices are going to result in lost privileges instead of tanked credit scores. A time when they aren’t going to lose their home because they blew their paycheque on new clothes and can’t make their rent money, or pay their utility bills.

Teaching them about money is great, but it only works if you then allow them to have an opportunity to exercise their skills. And that means they are going to make mistakes. Let them.

Build those opportunities into your plans, and don’t be disappointed when they do, instead use it as a chance to review what happened, provide guidance as necessary AND……..LET THEM TRY AGAIN!

The Real Question

Is how your child copes with failure (particularly money failure) something you want your son or daughter finding out about themselves when they are in their early twenties?

Or do you want them to experience this and work through these emotions (and consequences) early? When not only the consequences are minimal, but you are there to provide them support and guidance on how to deal with it? Along with encouragement to try again?

As counter-intuitive as it is for a parent to intentionally LET their child fail – we must. That doesn’t mean we can’t be there as their biggest cheerleader, to offer a hand as they pick themselves up and dust themselves off, and try, try again. Including being available to give additional guidance and tips for the next attempt.

We just can’t do it all for them.

I’ll leave you with this thought.

Failure is akin to a virus – through repeated exposure to low doses in controlled settings, our kids bodies can build the necessary anti-bodies to protect them from the most harmful effects of a virus. BUT if we shelter our kids from viruses entirely, when they do inevitably encounter one, it is much more likely to have devastating effects.

Don’t be the reason your kids are left vulnerable to the reality of failure.

Next week we’ll discuss some great ways to provide opportunities for the growth of your kids foundational financial skills through what I consider to be the ESSENTIAL family finance learning tool! It offers your kids an environment rife with opportunities to experience mistakes, setbacks, and develop takeaways on how to handle failure, And so much more!

See you then and thanks for reading!

13 thoughts on “Why Great Parents…..Let Their Kids Fail

  1. Hi Phia,

    I heard your interview on FI Garage for the first time a few days ago and finally made my way over to your blog. Loving the articles so far! Am continuing to read my way through 🙂

    Really enjoyed this: “[…] if we do everything for them, it’s not their success or accomplishment. It’s ours, and we are stealing it away from them.” I feel like this should be turned into printable, hand-lettered art and then distributed to every new parent at the labour and delivery units and then again in elementary school. And I need one to post on my wall – not yet a parent, but very much have the helicopter tendency.

    This really applies to the workplace too, in terms of people with management or leadership roles. For the people on our teams or for the people we supervise, doing everything for them or providing super detailed suggestions of how and what to do steals their success away from them. I’m starting to shift into more of a leadership role now, and this is something I struggle with. Really brings home how parents (or the parent) are the leaders of the family household!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dr. FIREfly – thanks for coming over to check out the website! So glad you are enjoying the content 🙂

      I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about this concept applying to leadership as well. In my former job, I managed a mid-size team and found that I really had to focus on the overall objectives and be okay with giving me people the room to identify their own methodology behind achieving them, while finding a balance of providing appropriate support, guidance, and feedback as needed.

      It always amazes me how quickly a micro-manager can cripple the efficiency of a team, along with their willingness to think for themselves and try new things. And the same really is true of the parenting role too!!!

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment – (and I’ll have to look into laminating some handouts with that quotation you highlighted)!

      Like

  2. Wow, I wish I could write as good as you. This is a great article. When I started reading your article, I first thought that maybe we weren’t letting our kids fail enough. But then I realized how independent we have made them by 8 and 10. They set their own alarms for the morning, make their own breakfast, pack their lunches for school and have to leave on time for the bus. The area that I feel like we aren’t doing as good of a job with is teaching them how to spend and use money. I’ve started to have more conversations about finances, but I struggle with ways to start teaching them some basic concepts. But I’m probably over thinking it. I’m excited to read more articles like this! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Chris! (Also.- I think your writing is great!) It sounds like you guys have done an amazing job providing opportunities for your kids to gain independence (and all the confidence, and self esteem in their own capability that comes along with that!!!) Nice work! I love hearing from parents who encourage their kids to take on responsibility like that!

      Money can definitely be a tricky one when it comes to where and how to start – BUT I’m actually in the midst of writing a two part post on how to do exactly that. It’s scheduled to come out for the end of June, so hopefully it’ll provide some helpful ideas!!

      Like

  3. YES Phia! I couldn’t agree more with everything in this article. From day one, this is exactly how I’ve raised my kids.

    Like Savvy History did in her comment above, I just have to quote you and comment on it: “Failures – they tend to remain vivid in our memories, along with their consequences. They are more effective than hours upon hours of “parental guidance” aka, lectures.”

    I’ve always believed in the value of experiencing failure, but never quite thought about it this way. What a brilliant way of looking at failure! I’ll have to file it away so I can remind myself of it. 🙂

    PS It was so nice to meet you, Mike and your little cutie yesterday. So happy that we could finally connect in-person. I’m looking forward to more meetups in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Chrissy! I loved reading your post today about what happened with your son’s Fortnite purchase! The way you handled it by talking it through with him summed up so much of what is at the heart of this post. The way you identified an opportunity to talk with him about it, helped him learn from the experience, and also move on without harbouring guilt about having made a mistake, I was like YES! That’s exactly how its done!

      I also really enjoyed meeting you guys yesterday! It was so lovely to have a chance to chat in person, and put a face to all your wonderful content!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Really love your thoughts here! As someone learning a lot about growth mindset (and seeing how many things I missed out on myself while trying to do the “right thing”), I want my children to be comfortable with failing! Failing as a word gets such a bad wrap.

    This quote especially stuck out to me:

    “When it comes to money – far too many parents don’t even give their kids a chance to engage with money, let alone fail with it.”

    My husband and I have been dissecting our upbringing lately to see where our money habits may have come from. I imagine it’s so hard to strike a balance between being over-controlling and letting children learn for themselves. We’ll see how we do! On every issue so far (food, health, washing hands, etc.), I’ve been too controlling so I know where my weakness is…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much! I agree that it is a difficult area to find an ideal balance – I also have the tendency to default to a more controlling approach, so I have to regularly check myself!

      I love that you guys have been dissecting your childhood to identify sources of your money habits! I have been trying to do that myself – but I’ve really been struggling to identify key experiences that may have pushed me one way or another! I hope you write a post about what you guys discover!

      Like

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