LEARNING TO It could be the biggest gift you give your children – letting them fail and affording them the opportunity of learning from their mistakes
We parents a r e hypersensitised to risk – and who can blame us? After all, we live in a country with epidemic-level violent crime, so our fear levels are as high as our walls. We want our kids in a direct line of sight 24/7. Which one of us has ever let our kids ride their bikes in an (ungated) road without a helmet, or play unsupervised on a jungle gym? And who of us hasn’t intervened to redirect a playdate when things get fractious? Hover, hover, hover. It’s a natural instinct to want to protect your children, keep them from harm, facilitate their friendships and smoothe the bumps in the road for them so that their childhood isn’t too upsetting or stressful. But is it the right thing to do? New research says no – that overparenting your children can have a big impact on the kind of adults they become.
who control and direct their child’s every interaction, whether it’s to guide them away from climbing that high jungle gym at the park, or intervening at the first sign of a squabble during a playdate, is inadvertently robbing their child of the opportunity to fail – to make their own mistakes, to learn through their interactions and to develop the tools and resources that will guide them through the world in the years to come.
In her book, The Gift of Failure, teacher and author Jessica Lahey explains that “today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence and academic potential of an entire generation.” Furthermore, she says, “Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative, and resilient citizens of the world.”
Instead of inadvertently extending our children’s dependence on us, Jessica advocates for a style of parenting she calls autonomysupportive parenting. The basis of autonomy-supportive parenting is that we allow our children to learn through experience rather than trying to shield them from failures and disappointments, while still providing them with a reassuring, caring and supportive environment. easy to underestimate a twoyear-old or a three- or fouryear-old and fear for them and not want them to get hurt. No parent wants their child to get hurt, but the odd tumble off a jungle gym or a fight with a friend is something they will recover from,” she adds. Indeed, these experiences teach our children lessons to take with them in the future, lessons they need to learn for future success.