We just kicked off our second week of second grade. New teacher, new rules. Instead of turning in homework on Friday, Little Bit now has to turn in homework every day.
Monday, Little Bit left her homework assignment at school,
She screwed up. The first time homework is due this year, she’s not going to have done it. So much for first impressions.
Our daughter doesn’t take disappointment well. She stomps, says she’s stupid and panics that someone might yell at her. Worst of all, she tries to use an excuse. She didn’t put the folder in the backpack because she was distracted.
“Not my fault!”
But it was. And now she’ll have to deal with the consequences, and we have to let her.
Our kiddo knows that her education and academic achievement are important to us. Heck, both Jon and I spent time in Ph.D. programs, and we both earned MBAs. Her 4 grandparents earned an M.A, an M.S.W., a J.D., and a Ph.D.
As parents, though, we know we can’t do school for her. She has to work hard and do it herself. Academic success is her responsibility.
So Jon and I didn’t rush her back to school to see if we could get her folder. We didn’t email her teacher. We did, however, get her early to school the next day so she could try and get the homework done in the morning.
Maybe she does it, maybe not.
Failure Isn’t Bad, but It Ain’t Easy
Childhood should be a time to learn a lot of lessons, few as important as dealing with failure, consequences, and disappointment.
Yet so many parents struggle with letting their kids fail a little now. We’ve all heard the horror stories of helicopter parenting run amok: participation trophies, parents calling college professors to get their kid’s grades changed, even parents trying to sit in on job interviews.
Yeah, that’s the new employee I want to hire. Is Mom gonna do the work, too?
I get it. We love our kids, and we want them to be successful and happy. Short-term, failure can make you feel awful. No one wants to be a loser.
Long term, though, failure can open new doors if you let it. To get past it, you either have to adjust your viewpoint or your behavior. Those responses, though, aren’t usually a kid’s first instinct to life’s little disappointments.
Most of the time, a child’s consequences aren’t earth-shattering. A zero on a single second-grade homework assignment, even the first one, won’t consign our kid to a lifetime of “Do you want fries with that?”
Teaching her not to take responsibility for her actions, though, might.
The Consequences of “Not My Fault!”
The only way to become a successful adult is to become a responsible one. If you don’t accept the consequences of your actions, you’ll never take the actions to reap rewards.
Irresponsible adults mount up debts they can’t pay. They don’t save money for retirement, or even $400 emergencies. They expect friends or family to bail them out, and always need a handout.
Irresponsible adults don’t get good jobs or lose the ones they get through not showing up on time, performing poorly, or committing other screw ups.
Sure, some of these things may happen to even responsible adults. Bad luck happens, and even responsible people screw up. The difference is that these things happen far more often to irresponsible people.
People who accept responsibility for their actions can generally learn from their mistakes, adjust their behavior, and recover from setbacks. People who don’t accept consequences tend to continue the same patterns, over and over.
How to Let It Go
So how do you let your kid learn that screwing up isn’t the end of the world?
- Remember the end game. When your kid makes a mistake, ask yourself, “How do I want him to handle this when he’s an adult?” If your first response doesn’t help move them in that direction, maybe you need to rethink.
- Praise hard work, not ability. If you want your kid to develop a growth mindset instead of a fixed one, you want her to feel in control of her destiny. Hard work can pay off, but she’ll have to believe that it, rather than raw talent, is the key to success.
- Open up their options. One of my favorite strategies when Little Bit’s feeling less successful is to ask “What can you do differently next time?” That gets her dwelling on the future, not the past. You want them to learn Einstein’s other famous theory: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
- Let them see you struggle, and how you deal with it. Modeling good behavior means you need to be a good example. Keep working toward your own goals, even when you have setbacks. Take responsibility for your performance, even when it’s not up to par.
- Let them clean up their own messes, both literal and metaphorical. Sure, you could do it yourself, probably quicker, easier and more thoroughly. But your kid needs to learn that often the consequences of his mistakes means he’ll need to expend some extra effort.
The Light At the End of the Tunnel
This weekend I read about a similar situation from Brock over at Clever Dude. His soon-to-be-college-freshman son spent a bit too much money on vacation, and now is dealing with the consequences. He’s learning some valuable lessons about best-laid plans and making some adjustments to his summer and first-semester work strategies.
The kid’s obviously raised right. He had a problem of his own making, and he’s fixing it, in part because Brock’s not bailing him out. Instead, the proud dad figures his son has shown the resilience that will make him a successful productive adult.
Resilience I want for my kid. The resilience that will only develop if I let her take the consequences of her actions. The ability to overcome all the little setbacks life regularly throws at us, whether it’s a blown budget, a promotion she doesn’t get, or a homework assignment she left at school.
So even though it’s hard, even though it can hurt to watch, she’s gonna have to clean up this mess herself.
How did your parents teach you to take responsibility for your actions? How do you teach your kids? How do you handle watching your kid’s struggle?