You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself. -Galileo
We live in a self-help era. There are life coaches. There are success gurus. There are seminars on how to be more successful.
I don’t know the exact number of books written, CDs produced, and seminars created on the topic of success, but it must be in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
After all, we want to be successful. We want to know how to achieve success. We want to hold on to that success once we get it.
As loving parents and caretakers of children, we want the same for them. The desire to see our children and those we treat be successful may perhaps be the single biggest factor in why we often jump in to “help” them when we see them struggling.
But are we really helping them in these instances? Probably not.
Here’s why you should consider letting your child fail and make some mistakes:
Independence: When we do something for the child, we might be quieting the voice in our head telling us to help the struggling child, but, at the same time, we are instilling dependence in him. By jumping in to help, we are demonstrating that he is incapable of figuring out the solution to the problem independently. We can offer clues, suggestions, ask probing questions to stimulate a solution, but solving the problem for the child creates dependence.
Trust: When we allow the child to solve a problem or complete a difficult task, we show them that we trust that they are capable of problem solving and task completion. On the other hand, when we jump in and do it for them, the message we send is that we don’t believe in their own abilities.
Self Esteem: Healthy self esteem cannot be given to a child. It can only come from within the child. Studies have shown that self esteem is mostly based on internal, rather than on external, factors. It is a direct result of the child seeing that he can make mistakes, solve problems, struggle and come out triumphant, and that his value as a human being is not contingent upon these factors.
Expertise: In what is now a very well known paper published in the Harvard Business Review, The Making of an Expert details the factors essential for developing expertise, regardless of field or area. One of the most important factors every single expert including great sportsmen, musicians, and artists have in common is what they call “deliberate practice.” Essentially, this means doing your activity of choice, analyzing the mistakes, and then doing it again while trying to learn how to avoid repeating the mistakes. Wouldn’t it be great if your child can perform in this way?
Self monitoring: There are two forms of feedback: intrinsic feedback and extrinsic feedback. An example of extrinsic feedback is us saying to our children, “good job,” every so often. As mentioned, this type of feedback creates dependence. An example of intrinsic feedback is letting your child solve a problem on her own and watch for that smile when she “gets it” independently. This type of feedback is based on the child learning how to monitor her own work and depend on her own judgement.
As far as I know, there are no seminars on how to fail. Yet, without failure there is no success. It is important to allow our children to fail and make mistakes in a healthy and supportive manner. No amount of coaching, attending seminars and reading books can substitute for the true benefit of failing, making mistakes, and learning the valuable lessons they teach.