I’m sure that, like me, you’ve at least heard of the recent college admissions scandal, even if you haven’t been following it closely. And yes, it brings to mind all the inequalities in life, even in a rich country such as the USA. But to me, all that I thought was: shouldn’t they let their kids at least try? I mean, even if they don’t get in, kids need to make their own mistakes, right?
I have to say that for me, beyond all the matters of the rich being able to cheat in life to stay ahead of others, that was really what stuck with me. And it got me thinking about all the reasons children need to be able to make their own mistakes.
And here are, in my mind, some of the most important:
1 – Children won’t learn from their parents’ mistakes
I know that parents want to protect their children, and that’s why they want to shield them from ever making a mistake. I get it, I do. But when you think about it, your plan is to… What?
Give your children a list of all the mistakes you yourself have made, with detailed instructions of how to avoid them?
I know that we, as parents, believe that we are a fountain of wisdom, and that our children should be grateful to learn form our mistakes, because some of them were quite painful.
And perhaps they should be.
But didn’t your parents feel the exact same way? Didn’t your parents tell you why you shoudn’t run so fast downhill, because you’d fall and hurt yourself? Didn’t they tell you not to cut your own hair, because then you’d look terrible until it grew out? Didn’t they tell you to study for that test ahead of time, because last minute cramming doesn’t work? Or that you should work on your assignments for just a while every night, so that you didn’t have to stay up all night the day before it’s due to be handed in?
I’m pretty sure they did. That, or something very similar you now find yourself telling your own children.
But here’s the thing; did you ever learn from your parents’ mistakes? Or did you make your own, and find out for yourself just how painful it really is?
Why it’s important
Learning it for yourself is the only real way we ever learn. Yes, of course, we learn from others as well. That’s how we evolve as a society in the first place, right? Because we don’t all have to keep repeating what others have done before us?
But what I mean, is that we have to learn from mistakes ourselves to create that baseline of what pain feels like.
Children need to scrape their knees and screw up their homework themselves, so that they realise how bad they feel afterwards. That pain that they feel, there’s no way a parent can explain it to them in a manner that it will stick with them. Not like feeling it for themselves will.
But once they’ve got that baseline, they will have a reference to go back to. Their own reference.
That’s why a child who has fallen down and hurt himself really badly running, won’t doubt you when you say he could hurt himself falling out of a tree. Even though it’s not the same, he’s got a baseline of what injury feels like.
So let children make their own mistakes, make a few wrong choices here and there that you could have spared them. Because in the long run, they need this.
They need to have their own baseline.
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2 – You’re hurting their self-esteem
When you keep interfering with every choice they make, you’re sending the very clear signal that you don’t trust their judgement. You’re saying that you don’t believe that they could possibly make the right decision without your help.
And you may be right. You may know that they will regret not wearing long pants to the forest because they will get eaten by mosquitoes. But what’s the point in arguing? Warn them, but if they don’t listen, let them make the decision for themselves.
After a while, when they’ve got enough experience, they will begin to make the rigth decisions on their own.
But by constantly telling them what to do, when to do it and why what they want to do is wrong, you are keeping them from building that experience database, and undermining their self-esteem.
Why it’s important
Self-esteem is built slowly and painfully from the day your child is born. It takes so long for it to get built up, but can be broken down in a matter of moments.
That’s why it’s so important for parents to be their child’s number one supporter. No, I don’t think this means to congratulate your child for finishing last. But it does mean that you should tell them that you know that they tried their best and that if they would like, you can help them practice for next time. Tell them that finishing last is a great opportunity because there’s so much they can learn from others who did better than them.
Teach them to see defeat as something that can be worked on, and improved on, rather than a fatality and something they should fear and be ashamed of.
Let your children make their own mistakes, even if it’s painful for you to watch. It’s painful right now, but in the long run, you will watch your child succeed and overcome difficulties he would never have been able to otherwise.
Which brings me to my next point:
3 – Children need to become independent
Your job as a parent isn’t to make sure that your child never gets hurt, or that he never fails at anything in life.
Your job is to raise a child that will become an independent and happy individual.
But your child will never be that if you are always walking ahead of him, cutting through the branches that might scratch him or clearing the pebbles he might trip on.
Let him get scratched. Let him trip. Be there afterwards to disinfect the wounds, blow and kiss and bandage them. But let him get hurt.
If you keep clearing the way and not even letting your children try, such as the parents in the college admissions scandal did, how are your children supposed to know what they are capable of achieving on their own? How will they know how strong they are?
The truth is, they won’t. They will always turn to Mommy and Daddy as soon as there is the slightest bump in the road, and will never be able to deal with the slightest difficulty on their own.
And I’m going to be very harsh here, but if that’s how your children grow up, then you may feel needed and important, but the truth is that you’ve failed in your most sacred duty as a parent. To raise independent children.
Why it’s important
What will happen to your children once you’re gone? They’ll crash and burn. No one else will take on the job of polishing every stick in the forest so that they don’t get any slivers.
What I think is the worst part about this college scandal, is that the parents decided that they needed to pay for their child to get in, or their life would be over.
So what if they don’t get into that college? Or if they don’t get into any college?
Yeah, life may be harder for them, and they may not have all the doors that pop open for them the minute they look in its direction. But it doesn’t mean they’ll fail.
Working hard to achieve success is not something people should be ashamed of. Why should parents feel that it’s the worst that could happen to their child? Isn’t the value of what they achieve so much bigger if they actually had to put in the hard work to get there?
In the end
I know that nothing I or anybody else says will change things. But hey, it doesn’t mean we can’t say it, right?
But for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents:
Stop carving the path for your children. They may struggle a little in the beginning. But if you allow them to struggle as children, then the issues they have are their size. It’ll be a bruise here and some tears there because a child at the playground teased them.
Kiss the bruise and wipe the tears away. Give them comforting words. Build up their self-esteem, and teach them how to deal with those problems.
Soon, they will have enough baggage to solve their problems without having to turn to you. You may feel a little useless as a parents, but this is when you will know that you have given your children the most beautiful gifts in the world: self-confidence and independence.
What will happen if you don’t allow your children to make mistakes while they are little? Their problems will grow with them.
All of a sudden it’s not just a scraped knee, it’s a college you have to bribe to let your kid in.
Let your children make mistakes, and be there for them when they do.
What about you? What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you think it’s important to let your children make their mistakes? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your opinions!
And in the meantime, take care,
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