This Is What It Looks Like To Let Your Kids Fail (And Why It's Important)

by Melissa L. Fenton
Rebecca Nelson / Getty Images

Every parent wants the very best for their children. We spend years doing all the big (and small) things in our power (and at our disposal) to make this happen. We plan, save, stress, pine, hover, encourage, and, of course, protect our kids. None of us want to see our kids get hurt, struggle, suffer, or fail at anything — even the smallest of things. Ever.

Unfortunately, an unintended side effect of this is that we’ve raised a generation of children who not only don’t know what it feels like to truly fail, they are never given the chance to learn the valuable lessons that come with failing — like brushing themselves off from defeat, then having the perseverance and drive to rise back up again.

We start and continue to keep our kids from failing with the best of intentions; we don’t want to see them unhappy, we’re afraid of how others will view us as parents if our kids fail, and we think by swooping in and saving the day that we are actually saving the day. We’re on their side of disappointment, reassuring them defeat is rarely (if ever) their fault, and that any sort of failure is shameful and disgraceful.

Ultimately, we’ve perpetuated the notion that failure in any form is unacceptable and intolerable. And we wonder why we’ve got colleges full of young adults who are suffering from anxiety, depression, and a complete lack of emotional weaponry in their backpacks to handle real life when it comes at them fiercely, and ready to show them what actual failure looks like.

And that is precisely what we need to do — let them experience real, actual, EPIC failure. But what does that look like exactly? What does it look like to sit back and watch our kids fall flat on their asses, knowing, in the end, it really is the best thing for them?

Well, it’s doesn’t look like delivering forgotten lunches or homework papers to school, and it doesn’t look like sticky notes and chore charts all over the house full of reminders, to-do lists, and incentives for doing such things. (Although beginning to not do all those things is the small step towards encouraging self-motivation and sufficiency.) I’m not just talking about shunning regular mom duties either; when we talk about letting our kids fail epically, I mean letting them fail (literally and hypothetically) the really big stuff.

The night before a huge project is due (one that makes up a giant percentage of their semester grade), are you running to the store for rubber cement and tri-fold poster board? DON’T.

When the teacher sends a disciplinary action note home, are you quick to come to your kid’s defense and call that teacher questioning her judgment? DON’T.

When your kid doesn’t make the little league all-star team, the cheer squad, the math quiz bowl, the lead in the drama play, or the honor society, do you call the league president and the school principal demanding a full explanation, immediate action, and another audition? DON’T.

When your tween or teen daughter or son finds themselves wrapped up in friend drama, do you call the parents of the other kids involved, intervening in an attempt to resolve their issues for them before someone gets hurt? DON’T.

When they miss a major school assignment deadline, application deadline, or job deadline, do you jump in on their behalf and ask for an extension? DON’T.

When they fail an entire semester of a class, one that will show up on their transcript forever, do you beg the teacher and guidance counselor for a re-do, extra credit, or to just change it because he’s a nice kid? DON’T.

Letting your kid fail spectacularly is undoubtedly one of the hardest (if not the hardest) things you’re going to have to do as a parent. It just isn’t naturally in a parent’s chemistry to sit back and let bad shit happen to their children, but experts agree it’s an absolute must during childhood. Good intentions of saving our kids from defeat is only undermining their resilience and independence. In her book The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, author Jessica Lahey writes: “We have taught our kids to fear failure, and in doing so, we have blocked the surest and clearest path to their success.”

The sooner we teach our children that true success can only come after being knocked down over and over again and getting back up, the better chance they will have at overcoming everything life throws at them.