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Momsense - Letting kids learn from mistakes

by Dr. Henry Cloud

One of the most important things for parents to understand is this: the goal in parenting is NOT to get your kids under control. Your goal is to help your kids to GET THEMSELVES under control. The last thing you want is to be in control of your kids, and the biggest thing you want is for your kids to be in control of themselves.

There are many reasons for this, obviously, but one of the biggest is that you are not always going to be there to “get them to do x,” whether “x” is to behave, do homework, obey the rules, treat others well, etc. No matter what it is that you are now “getting them to do,” what you ultimately want is a child who has internalized the ability and the desire to do the right things on his or her own, apart from you. That is a big part of maturity. So, the question arises, as a parent, how do you make that happen?

One of the biggest ways is to preserve freedom and choice as best you can. Preserve freedom for your child because if we do not have freedom, we cannot have self-control, love and many other aspects of life. Freedom is a pre-requisite for everything good, and you preserve that freedom by making sure that your child has choices whenever possible. Bu that also means that they will make mistakes, and some of those might be painful. That is just part of the deal. So, what does that look like?

First, it means that you give them boundaries, for freedom only has meaning within boundaries, and second, you give them the freedom to choose whether or not they will live within those boundaries or not. Then, if they don’t some sort of “ouch” must occur. As a result, they learn.

Certainly the “ouch” must be tolerable and not dangerous. Your job it to guard them from the things that they are not ready for and not allow those choices to be available. For example, they are not ready to manage traffic, so they are not allowed to even be in that situation, as they could get killed if they make a mistake. But, they do need to learn how to do other things that will not kill them if they make the wrong choice and suffer the consequences, from learning how to walk, to taking care of themselves.That is good.

So, after initial training, do not “get them to clean up.” Tell them that you want them to go clean up their toys, and tell them that if they don’t clean up, they will lose their toys for a day, or not be able to go out and play, for example. Then, let them make the choice and suffer the consequences. It will not take long before you are no longer saying, “YOU NEED to clean up your room,” (worst phrase ever) and instead, you are saying, “Clean up your room if you want to go play.” And they find out, “Oh my, I NEED to clean up my room, because if I don’t, bad things are going to happen!” They then take control, self-control and do the right thing. Why? They have learned from their mistakes.

Bottom line: increase freedom, choice and consequences in the areas that won’t significantly hurt them. Guard them from the areas that will. Let them learn. As a result, both of you will benefit.

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