I want your kids to fail.
I want them to lose their library book.
I want them to forget their lunch.
I want your kids to oversleep and miss their first two classes.
I want them to get their bike stolen because they didn’t lock it.
I want them to miss the bus and be in a dilemma.
I want them to spill their hot chocolate all over the carpet.
I want them to fall asleep in class because they wasted their evening and went to bed too late.
I want your kids’ pet fish to die because they didn’t feed it.
I want them to feel sick because they ate too much candy.
I want them to forget to do their chores and have to repay whoever did them.
I want your kids to get an embarrassing grade on the history project into which they put little effort.
I want them to waste their allowance money on junk so they can’t buy something really valuable.
I hope they lock all three sets of keys inside their car so they have to call AAA for help.
I want kids to wear smelly clothes because they didn’t put them in the laundry basket in time.
I want them to be ticked off — at themselves.
I want us to have no cups on the spring retreat because the seniors forgot to pack them.
I want the junior class to incur $100.18 in late fees because they were two days late in returning their Star Wars costumes.
I want them to fail because I love them. And you should too.
Parents spend far too much effort and emotion trying to keep their kids from failing. I’m the opposite. I actually hope for my kids to fail!
Remember, our goal as parents is to for our kids to learn to manage their own lives and make wise decisions — without our intervention. The goal of parenting is to raise adults, not children. They become more like adults the more we treat them like adults.
Give them high levels of responsibility.
- As our kids age we need to give them increased responsibilities and control over their lives. They’ll need to be responsible for their time, sleep, leisure time, finances, clothes, sports and music practice and performance, academic achievements, grades, entertainment, friends, and food choices. I’m not saying we can’t set acceptable parameters in some of these areas — that is our parental prerogative while they’re living with us — but we need to remember that unless they’ve learned to manage these areas completely by themselves, they are ill prepared for life. We shouldn’t even think about sending them off to college if we’re the ones still managing those areas of their lives.
- I favor giving kids high levels of responsibility. See my post on chores for example. It honors them to be deemed worthy of great responsibility.
Let them fail miserably.
- When they are freely allowed to fail in their responsibilities they learn important things about their own weakness, vulnerabilities, and needs. From the natural consequences of their failures they learn what they need to do different the next time. They learn how to avoid the same pitfalls the next time around. They learn how to fix what they break. They learn they are capable of cleaning up their own messes. They gain self-confidence as they learn that they are able to repair the damage they caused. Failure is a key way for them to learn who they are and how best to manage their own lives.
- If they are allowed to fail early when the stakes are small, they will have learned to manage themselves and avoid failure in the future when the stakes will be very high.
- (Obviously there are some failures we can’t in good conscience allow them to make due to safety or moral concerns, but these should few in number.)
What to do when they fail.
- Don’t make their problem yours. Let them fix it or deal with it themselves. Be a consultant if needed, but let them make things right. Relax and enjoy that they are learning hard, but valuable lessons.
- Don’t moralize or say “I told you so.” Let the consequences of their own failure be their teacher. Let them be mad at themselves only, not you.
- Show empathy, and offer your confidence in their ability to fix it.
- Neither rescue them, nor berate them for failing. Either would rob them of dignity and cause resentment between you.
I’ll close with a story from our home. At one point when one of our daughters was in high school getting up in the morning was a problem for her. It may have had something to do with her tendency to waste time in the evening, procrastinate her homework, get to bed ridiculously late, and then have trouble hearing her alarm clock in the morning. Cindy and I decided that it was in everyone’s best interest to make getting up her responsibility instead of ours. From now on she would need to get herself up in the morning and get herself off to school on her own.
When her alarm went off that next morning, Cindy and I laid in our bed and did nothing. It was hard to do, but we resisted the temptation to rescue her. She was late to school that day. And that wasn’t the only day she would oversleep!
But we decided that this was her problem. If it caused her embarrassment to walk in late — that would be her social problem. If being late would jeopardize her grades it would be her academic problem — she’d have to work that out with the school. Well it didn’t take her too long to figure out how to adjust her lifestyle and alarm clock placement to as to get herself to school on time for the rest of her school career. The way she overcame her failure gave us all great confidence that for the rest of her life she’ll be able to get herself where she needs to be on time! And she has!
That’s why I want your kids to fail.