Why It’s Important to Let Your Child Make Mistakes

 

Author, research psychologist, and gender expert

Why It’s Important To Let Your Child Make Mistakes

Posted: 09/01/2012 8:58 am
 

 At the end of a long, fun day at the water park with her dad, 9-year-old Nora decided she wanted to tackle one last slide before going home. It was the “big kid’s slide,” and she’d avoided it for years. With her father’s okay, Nora climbed the stairs, took a deep breath, and hurled herself down the plunging free-fall. Then she ran to the bathroom and threw up.

Her dad, Jeremy, had not pressured Nora into going on the slide, but he’d had no qualms about letting her go. By the park’s rules, Nora was more than tall enough for that slide. There were lifeguards. What’s more, she was typically a skittish child, often afraid to take risks or try new things. Though Jeremy was surprised by Nora’s interest in the slide, he thought it was a step in the right direction. As Nora cried over being sick — and repeating over and over again she never should have gone on the slide, and how could he have let her do that? — Jeremy told her that he was proud of her for trying something new, that she learned something important, and that everyone gets sick sometimes.

As parents, of course we want to protect our children — from danger, from upset, from things not turning out how they hoped. But we also need to realize that it’s not just okay, but essential, to let our children make mistakes. Jeremy had been right to let Nora go on the slide: By deciding to try something that was a little beyond her comfort zone, Nora was testing her independence and summoning up her courage — and growing. The outcome might not have been entirely pleasant, but she was safe. And a week later, she’d all but forgotten the unpleasant aspect of the experience; instead, the memory she shared with others was a gleeful, and unmistakably proud, “I went on Geronimo!”

As parents, our responsibility is to keep kids unharmed. That doesn’t mean shielding them from all possibility of defeat. It means letting them fail safely. That’s difficult, especially when it results in sadness, anxiety, or regret. But as psychologist Madeline Levine recently wrote in the New York Times, “if you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business.” What’s key in Nora’s story was that she felt safe enough with Jeremy and with her own abilities to try something new. That’s the feeling that must be fostered in order to help our children grow into confident, autonomous adults. Here’s how to help your child take risks — and make mistakes, inevitably — safely.

Aim to be reliable, but non-interfering. Ask yourself: Can my child handle this situation safely? Most children are not naturally reckless. But they don’t have the ability, as you do, to pay attention to details and be aware of all dangers. A child who desires doing so should be allowed to climb a tree — unless the tree is full of swarming bees and the child is allergic. What’s not okay is preventing your child from doing something to save yourself exclusively from your own worry.

Involve him in the decision-making. Explain the differences between two hikes — this one’s harder, this one will be longer — and then let your child choose. Or pick out his outfits. So what if he goes to school wearing mismatched socks (or worse?) So long as he’s decent, and comfortable, he’ll learn what works for him — and what doesn’t. An adult friend of mine still vividly remembers that moment in kindergarten when some other kids made fun of the striped knee socks she’d chosen to wear. At first, she was angry at her mother for letting her out of the house “like that,” but the eventual decision to continue wearing the socks anyway was one she made on her own, and proudly.

Let her solve her own problems. Too often, either because it’s easier or because we hate to see them struggle, we rush in quickly to help our child figure something out, whether it’s zipping her own coat or pouring her own glass of juice. Sure, it may take a few (or more) attempts; maybe there will be some spills. But children develop self-confidence when they figure out how to do things on their own. Letting your child try and try again — and eventually get it right on her own — teaches her more about herself, and about life, than rushing in to save the day. You can still be her hero, but let her be her own hero, too.

This first appeared on Psychology Today

Original article

Beyond Grades and Trophies, Teaching Kids the Definition of Success

Beyond Grades and Trophies, Teaching Kids the Definition of Success

August 24, 2012 | 7:00 AM | By

Flickr:CriCristina

By Amanda Stupi

In her new book Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, psychologist and author Madeline Levine exposes the pitfalls of over-parenting, and argues for a new definition of success and achievement.

Levine uses the term “authentic success” to differentiate success as it is traditionally viewed: titles, money, good grades, and prestigious schools. In the forward to her book, Levine writes that parents also need to encourage kids to “know and appreciate themselves deeply; to approach the world with zest; to find work that is exciting and satisfying, friends and spouses who are loving and loyal; and to hold a deep belief that they have something meaningful to contribute to society.”

Levine joined host Dave Iverson on KQED’s Forum to discuss her book. Here are some tips that surfaced from the conversation.

1. REMEMBER THE BASICS

According to Levine, research shows that “the four most important factors in parenting are reliability, consistency, stability and non-interference.” She says that most people don’t argue with the first three but that she receives push back on the last one — non-interference. Levine says learning from mistakes (the kind that occur when parents don’t interfere) is an important skill — one that employers say too many young workers lack.

2. BUILD A GOOD FOUNDATION

“We’ve all become these decorators as opposed to construction workers. What kids really need is not the right curtains i.e. the right schools, the right grades, but they need a strong foundation. So many parents are busy paying attention to the decorative aspect of their child.”

3. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR KIDS

Research shows that eating dinner with your kids is a good habit to maintain. But many parents over-think it. When asked about eating dinner with her own kids, Levine says “It wasn’t brilliant, deep conversation with three boys every night about how they felt about things, not by a long shot.” What mattered was that she spent time with them.

Levine says to emphasize play time, down time, and family time, or P.D.F.

“It’s in that quiet space that you actually get to know who your child is and that’s your primary job as a parent.” And don’t worry if progess is slow going. Levine says “Getting to know your child is a quiet, long process.”

4. ESTABLISH INTERNAL DEFINITION OF SUCCESS

Levine says that both parents and children need to shift from an external, performance-oriented version of success to an internal version that embraces “real curiosity about learning and how the child experiences things.”

Instead of equating a high grade with effort and intelligence and a low grade with a lack thereof, switch to questions like ‘Did you learn anything new on the test?’ or ‘What was the test like for you?’”

Encourage children “to go inside and evaluate for themselves.” At the end of the day that’s what I think authentic [success] means,” says Levine.

5. LET KIDS FAIL

According to Levine, letting kids fail is “one of the most critical things” parents can do. She encourages parents to remember how often toddlers fall when they’re learning to walk.

“That’s the model in life, for how kids master things. If we swooped in at the first stumble, a child wouldn’t learn how to walk. She walks because she fails over and over and over again with our continued encouragement and presence.”

6. FOCUS ON CHILD’S STRENGTH

“When you grow up you only have to be really, really good at one or two things. This idea of being good at everything, straight A’s, building water treatment plants in the Sudan and being the captain of the lacrosse team is so unrealistic.”

“We spend so much time with tutors or worrying about a kid who has difficulty in one field as oppose to concentrating on their strengths.”

7. DON’T DROWN YOUR KIDS IN PRAISE

Levine emphasized that one of the most important things parents can do for their children is to hold back the praise – that’s correct, you shouldn’t constantly tell your children that they are great.

“We seem to be under the impression that you can graft self-esteem onto your children if you just tell them enough how special they are. The reality is that self-esteem comes out of competence. How do you get confident about something? You get better at it.”

Levine explains that telling children they’re good at something builds pressure and expectations and that the possibility of not meeting those expectations works against kids.

“The risk for the child then becomes very great.”

Original article

“Raising Successful Children”

An interesting opinion article from the New York Times on August 4, 2012
 
By MADELINE LEVINE

PHRASES like “tiger mom” and “helicopter parent” have made their way into everyday language. But does overparenting hurt, or help?

While parents who are clearly and embarrassingly inappropriate come in for ridicule, many of us find ourselves drawn to the idea that with just a bit more parental elbow grease, we might turn out children with great talents and assured futures. Is there really anything wrong with a kind of “overparenting lite”?

Parental involvement has a long and rich history of being studied. Decades of studies, many of them by Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that the optimal parent is one who is involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects her child’s autonomy. These “authoritative parents” appear to hit the sweet spot of parental involvement and generally raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are either permissive and less involved, or controlling and more involved. Why is this particular parenting style so successful, and what does it tell us about overparenting?

For one thing, authoritative parents actually help cultivate motivation in their children. Carol Dweck, a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, has done research that indicates why authoritative parents raise more motivated, and thus more successful, children.

In a typical experiment, Dr. Dweck takes young children into a room and asks them to solve a simple puzzle. Most do so with little difficulty. But then Dr. Dweck tells some, but not all, of the kids how very bright and capable they are. As it turns out, the children who are not told they’re smart are more motivated to tackle increasingly difficult puzzles. They also exhibit higher levels of confidence and show greater overall progress in puzzle-solving.

This may seem counterintuitive, but praising children’s talents and abilities seems to rattle their confidence. Tackling more difficult puzzles carries the risk of losing one’s status as “smart” and deprives kids of the thrill of choosing to work simply for its own sake, regardless of outcomes. Dr. Dweck’s work aligns nicely with that of Dr. Baumrind, who also found that reasonably supporting a child’s autonomy and limiting interference results in better academic and emotional outcomes.

Their research confirms what I’ve seen in more than 25 years of clinical work, treating children in Marin County, an affluent suburb of San Francisco. The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parents do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child.

The central task of growing up is to develop a sense of self that is autonomous, confident and generally in accord with reality. If you treat your walking toddler as if she can’t walk, you diminish her confidence and distort reality. Ditto nightly “reviews” of homework, repetitive phone calls to “just check if you’re O.K.” and “editing” (read: writing) your child’s college application essay.

Once your child is capable of doing something, congratulate yourself on a job well done and move on. Continued, unnecessary intervention makes your child feel bad about himself (if he’s young) or angry at you (if he’s a teenager).

But isn’t it a parent’s job to help with those things that are just beyond your child’s reach? Why is it overparenting to do for your child what he or she is almost capable of?

Think back to when your toddler learned to walk. She would take a weaving step or two, collapse and immediately look to you for your reaction. You were in thrall to those early attempts and would do everything possible to encourage her to get up again. You certainly didn’t chastise her for failing or utter dire predictions about flipping burgers for the rest of her life if she fell again. You were present, alert and available to guide if necessary. But you didn’t pick her up every time.

You knew she had to get it wrong many times before she could get it right.

HANGING back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of the greatest challenges of parenting. It’s easier when they’re young — tolerating a stumbling toddler is far different from allowing a preteenager to meet her friends at the mall. The potential mistakes carry greater risks, and part of being a parent is minimizing risk for our children.

What kinds of risks should we tolerate? If there’s a predator loose in the neighborhood, your daughter doesn’t get to go to the mall. But under normal circumstances an 11-year-old girl is quite capable of taking care of herself for a few hours in the company of her friends. She may forget a package, overpay for an item or forget that she was supposed to call home at noon. Mastery of the world is an expanding geography for our kids, for toddlers, it’s the backyard; for preteens, the neighborhood, for teens the wider world. But it is in the small daily risks — the taller slide, the bike ride around the block, the invitation extended to a new classmate — that growth takes place. In this gray area of just beyond the comfortable is where resilience is born.

So if children are able to live with mistakes and even failing, why does it drive us crazy? So many parents have said to me, “I can’t stand to see my child unhappy.” If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business. The small challenges that start in infancy (the first whimper that doesn’t bring you running) present the opportunity for “successful failures,” that is, failures your child can live with and grow from. To rush in too quickly, to shield them, to deprive them of those challenges is to deprive them of the tools they will need to handle the inevitable, difficult, challenging and sometimes devastating demands of life.

While doing things for your child unnecessarily or prematurely can reduce motivation and increase dependency, it is the inability to maintain parental boundaries that most damages child development. When we do things for our children out of our own needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self.

There is an important distinction between good and bad parental involvement. For example, a young child doesn’t want to sit and do his math homework. Good parents insist on compliance, not because they need their child to be a perfect student but because the child needs to learn the fundamentals of math and develop a good work ethic. Compare this with the parent who spends weeks “helping” his or her child fill out college applications with the clear expectation that if they both work hard enough, a “gotta get into” school is a certainty. (While most of my parent patients have graduated from college, it is always a telltale sign of overparenting when they talk about how “we’re applying to Columbia.”)

In both situations parents are using control, in the first case behavioral (sit down, do your math) and in the second psychological (“we’re applying.”) It is psychological control that carries with it a textbook’s worth of damage to a child’s developing identity. If pushing, direction, motivation and reward always come from the outside, the child never has the opportunity to craft an inside. Having tutors prep your anxious 3-year-old for a preschool interview because all your friends’ children are going to this particular school or pushing your exhausted child to take one more advanced-placement course because it will ensure her spot as class valedictorian is not involved parenting but toxic overparenting aimed at meeting the parents’ need for status or affirmation and not the child’s needs.

So how do parents find the courage to discard the malpractice of overparenting? It’s hard to swim upstream, to resist peer pressure. But we must remember that children thrive best in an environment that is reliable, available, consistent and noninterfering.

A loving parent is warm, willing to set limits and unwilling to breach a child’s psychological boundaries by invoking shame or guilt. Parents must acknowledge their own anxiety. Your job is to know your child well enough to make a good call about whether he can manage a particular situation. Will you stay up worrying? Probably, but the child’s job is to grow, yours is to control your anxiety so it doesn’t get in the way of his reasonable moves toward autonomy.

Parents also have to be clear about their own values. Children watch us closely. If you want your children to be able to stand up for their values, you have to do the same. If you believe that a summer spent reading, taking creek walks and playing is better than a specialized camp, then stick to your guns. Parents also have to make sure their own lives are fulfilling. There is no parent more vulnerable to the excesses of overparenting than an unhappy parent. One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.

Madeline Levine is a clinician, consultant and the author, most recently, of “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success.”