Letting Our Children Fail

Letting children fail is hard. I am horrible at it.

I have been trying lately to not jump in and save my 6-year-old daughter so much. I answer her questions (all 10,000 of them per day), I zip up her coat, re-tie her shoes and remind her to get her lunch, pack her backpack and wipe her face.

It didn’t occur to me until recently that I was completely crippling her. My husband calls it “learned helplessness,” and he couldn’t be more spot on. I am teaching her that she needs me to think for her or fix her problems.

So I’ve been working on this. I have been trying to keep my mouth shut even if I know I have a better way of cutting out her homework assignment. She is now in charge of picking out her school clothes the night before. And I have let her forget her homework a time or two instead of reminding her to pack her yellow folder.

I thought I was doing great. And then . . . .the Rainbow Loom entered our lives.

I can’t believe my downfall would come in the form of a plastic loom, which is a popular children’s toy used to make bracelets out of rubber bands. But I admit, this rainbow loom band was my undoing.

Today, she and I were watching YouTube videos on how to do a certain type of bracelet. Everything was going great. Mother-daughter bonding was in full swing. But then, the pattern became more difficult. She started struggling. I just knew she was going to loop the wrong rubber band and then the whole thing would be ruined, RUINED!

So, I jumped in and said, “Here, why don’t I do this part so it doesn’t get messed up.”

Yes, yes. I hear it. I hear how awful it sounds. I regretted it the moment it left my mouth and even more when I saw the look on my daughter’s face. She immediately wanted nothing else to do with the bracelet.

I tried to give it back to her. I apologized and said I made a mistake and should not have taken over. But the damage was done.

I’m so angry at myself for this, although I know it’s not the worst thing I’ll ever do. I’m mad because I couldn’t let her fail at something so insignificant. I didn’t care one bit about the bracelet, but I didn’t want my daughter to mess up and get frustrated. I had to jump in and save her.

I need to let her make mistakes so she can learn, but also so she can build her self-confidence when she succeeds. I want her to know that she is amazing and capable and unstoppable. For that to happen, she needs to know I believe in her – even over something as trivial as the loom band. Because for her, it’s not trivial. Finishing that bracelet on her own meant something to her, and I took it from her in that moment.

And one day when the stakes are higher, I don’t want my daughter to be incapable of making her own good decisions without mom by her side. In those moments when she is making real life or death choices, I hope I have let her fail and learn and succeed enough so that she can steer her own life.

The good thing is, she’s 6. She will try again tomorrow and so will I. I will keep my mouth shut. I will applaud her success and share her sorrow if she fails. I will love her enough to let her be frustrated and make mistakes. I will love her enough to let her fail.

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