Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Is it good to let kids screw up?

By Charity Curley Mathews, upwave.com
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 2110 GMT (0510 HKT)
Children do need to practice making decisions -- and dealing with failure.
Children do need to practice making decisions -- and dealing with failure.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kids learn from failure if you're there to coach them
  • Children need practice in making decisions
  • Kids need particular practice with finances

Editor's note: upwave is Turner Broadcasting's new lifestyle brand designed to entertain the health into you! Visit upwave.com for more information and follow upwave on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram @upwave.

(CNN) -- There are certain seasons in Rome, where my children were born, when the days begin cool and end in sunshine. When we lived there, my preschooler and I started every one of them with the following conversation:

Me: "Here's your fleece. It'll be chilly outside."

Preschooler: "No, I don't want it."

Me: "You'll be cold without it."

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Preschooler: "No, I'll be sweaty." (Or my favorite, "No, I don't like it when it touches my hands.")

"So be it," I'd think as I zipped up my own jacket. Because I knew what was coming. And sure enough, the moment we stepped outside, one of us (hint: it wasn't me) was suddenly shivering and screeching about being "soooooo cold." Clearly, the lesson hadn't been learned -- but I had no problem letting it sink in, one morning at a time.

upwave: 6-step fearless parenting model

The rumor: It's good to let your kids screw up because they learn

OK: A spring jacket is one thing, but what about letting a child spend his hard-earned allowance on something overpriced or bound to break immediately? Or letting him quit a team? Or fight with a friend? At what point does it make sense for a parent to step in, save your kid some pain and discomfort and give them a bit of your grown-up know-how?

The verdict: The tactic only works if you coach your kids on what to do differently next time

Children do need to practice making decisions -- and dealing with failure -- before the consequences are too great. "If kids don't have the space to experiment and periodically make mistakes, they'll never learn how to problem solve and cope on their own," says Christine Koh, co-author of "Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less."

upwave: A guide to mindful parenting

But there's a right way to do it. The key? Coaching kids without being critical, says Ann Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders. "I often send parents and children off to do something on purpose that will go wrong, such as to bake cakes together and to substitute baking soda for baking powder, just to see what will go wrong and then how to handle the situation," she says. "Parents can be great coaches in asking the child questions: 'Tell me about what happened. What do you think you can do differently next time? Can you brainstorm with me some ideas of what to do?' Parents can act as guides, leading through problem-solving steps. But the child needs to be encouraged to put the steps into place on their own."

Tempering toddler tantrums with Jo Frost
Young women shaping pop culture
Are kids taking the fun out of parenting?

Kids need practice with finances in particular. According to Bruce Feiler, author of "The Secrets of Happy Families," 80% of kids entering college have never had a conversation with their parents about money: earning it, spending it, what it means to get into debt and so on. He says that the time for your kids to experiment with money is now, and the logic is this: It's better to have your sixth grader be bummed that he spent five weeks' worth of allowance on what turned out to be a fake snake on a string (like a certain husband of mine did back in the day) than to have said kid rack up 50 grand in credit-card debt by age 25.

upwave: 6 tips for raising money-wise children

The problem is, letting our kids slip and fall -- figuratively and literally -- runs counter to our instincts as parents. After all, our job is to keep them safe. As comedian Louis C.K. told David Letterman, "You have this thing: You're supposed to raise them right. It's not just, 'Make them not die.' You make them good people."

I think we can all agree that "making kids good people" does not mean letting them fall to pieces every time they strike out, don't earn the grade they wanted or get hoodwinked at the fair (snake buyers be warned). Albano, who is also the author of "You and Your Anxious Child: Free Your Child from Fears and Worries and Create a Joyful Family Life," says you must let your kids make their own moves to become stable adults. Just provide the framework. "Your child isn't sure if she wants to join a group at school? Encourage her to ask questions of the kids in the club so she can learn more about it," she says. "Don't do this for her, but do rehearse with her how to approach others. The teacher mis-graded an exam? Rather than calling up the teacher, role-play with your child on how she can ask the teacher to take another look at the assignment."

upwave: Is being a worry wart in your DNA?

The bottom line is this: Don't step in and do the work for your kids. Don't line up the perfect internship or correct a homework assignment after your child has gone to bed. Do ask questions, though, and do coach your kids through the possible outcomes ahead of time. If the damage is already done, take them through a play-by-play and help them figure out what to do the next time something like that happens.

And when in doubt, bring an extra fleece jacket.

This article was originally published on upwave.com.

© 2013 upwave, All Rights Reserved.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1840 GMT (0240 HKT)
Trick-or-treating and dressing in costume have been Halloween traditions for a good long time now, but it seems we're still struggling to get it right.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 2038 GMT (0438 HKT)
Yes, there's actually corn in it. Corn syrup, if that counts.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
We don't know, and may never know, what led to the Washington school shooting, but we have to ask ourselves, following this tragedy, if we are doing enough to help our boys deal with difficult emotions without resorting to violence.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
The viral video of a New York woman being catcalled on the street has men asking, "So, what should I do?" The answer starts with respect.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Walmart found itself sending apology tweet after apology tweet after the Twitterverse raked it over the coals for a major goof on its website.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 2002 GMT (0402 HKT)
There aren't too many times when I'm speechless about what I consider an outrageous example of parenting. This is one of those times.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Holy crap, LeVar Burton.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 2138 GMT (0538 HKT)
Critics pounced on supermodel Gisele Bundchen for advocating a little mommy "me time" recently. When did it become a crime to admit that you -- as a parent -- put yourself first?
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Not again.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
"Breaking Bad's" drug-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White will have to stop making the sale at Toys R Us.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
I happen to agree with Renee Zellweger that all the chatter about her face is "silly." But I, and many other women I talked with via email Wednesday, would add some other choice words to the mix to describe the non-stop attention about her appearance: nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2206 GMT (0606 HKT)
I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too often associated with flex time -- the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren't willing to work as hard. But now I'm thinking it's going to be men who will get us there.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1140 GMT (1940 HKT)
Say it with us: Kids today have it sooooo easy.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1829 GMT (0229 HKT)
An Atlanta judge reportedly reprimanded an immigration attorney for bringing her 4-week-old to court for a hearing -- a hearing she asked the judge to reschedule because she was on her six-week maternity leave.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2018 GMT (0418 HKT)
Monica Lewinsky tweeted for the first time. She called herself "patient zero" of cyber-bullying.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1943 GMT (0343 HKT)
Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10-year-old competitive shooter with something to prove: "Kids and guns don't always mean bad things happen."
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1350 GMT (2150 HKT)
strawberry ghosts
We love Halloween season. Sweets. Sweaters. Sipping hot cider (maybe spiked). Halloween can certainly get you in the spirit, and nothing warms our hearts like these healthy Halloween treats that help you stay energized instead of stuck in a sugar coma.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1923 GMT (0323 HKT)
Does your baby cry during long flights, causing you to want to disappear from the glares of fellow passengers?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0252 GMT (1052 HKT)
Ask any teen if they suffer from social media anxiety and they would probably tell you no. But the truth is getting "likes" and the fear of missing out are adding stress to teens' lives.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to document stillborn and terminal babies' precious moments after birth.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1946 GMT (0346 HKT)
As part of the insurance coverage offered to its female employees, Facebook is paying to freeze their eggs.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world's most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm's website.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Trends in young adult fiction have shifted from wizards to glittering vampires to bloodthirsty "Hunger Games" and now, to teens coping with illnesses and realistic issues.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0056 GMT (0856 HKT)
Before he died this year, 14-year-old Martin Romero wanted to do something for his community.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
A 12-year-old girl called Dick's Sporting Goods out on its lack of female athletes in the Basketball 2014 catalog.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1636 GMT (0036 HKT)
Before he was even born, Shane Michael Haley had already met the Philadelphia Phillies, been to the top of the Empire State Building and shared a cheesesteak with his parents.
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I read the initial comments from Microsoft's CEO on how women who don't ask for raises will receive "good karma."
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1402 GMT (2202 HKT)
A photo series "From the NICU to the Moon" imagines premature babies in future professions with a series of imaginative doodles.
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1733 GMT (0133 HKT)
Jessica Dunne and her father Michael P. Dunne
"I don't think anyone is ready for grief. But when it hits you, it knocks you out cold," Jessica Dunne wrote after the sudden loss of her father.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
Most moms will say they long for a day when moms stop criticizing one another, but most of us are guilty of tearing each other down.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
When we think of terminal cancer patients, we don't imagine Brittany Maynard -- 29, vigorous, happy. But she will soon take a handful of pills that will end her life.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
"Back in my day, we used to walk five miles uphill, carrying all our books in the blistering cold and the pouring rain..." Some schools have found a new way to making walking to school safer -- and more fun.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT