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  • Dr. Jacqueline Cahalan

How Allowing for Mistakes and Failure can promote Growth

The other day my 3rd grader forgot his homework. I noticed it on the kitchen table about 10 minutes after he left for school. My first instinct was to drop everything I was doing and bring it to him to minimize any distress and disruption this might cause to his day. However, after taking a minute to pause, I recognized this for the teachable moment that it was and decided to leave it where it was until he came home later that day.

One of the ultimate goals of parenting is to teach our children to take care of themselves so that they can grow into responsible, independent adults who can manage challenges in their own lives. This is a long process that takes the entirety of their childhood and adolescence. Giving them responsibilities and space to make their own decisions, and to receive the natural consequences of their choices and behavior helps them to learn. If as parents, we never allow them to make mistakes, to occasionally fail, or to experience discomfort, we are hindering their ability to develop qualities such as resilience and perseverance that will get them through the inevitable challenges they will face as adults. When they are young, and the issue is something like forgotten homework, the stakes for their mistakes are relatively small, so it is a perfect, manageable, opportunity for them to begin to hone these skills. It also helps them develop self-confidence to learn that they have the ability to solve problems. If you scaffold these opportunities in age-appropriate ways, giving them space to handle small issues but support for more complicated difficulties that are beyond their developmental capacity, their ability to manage problems will develop with them. Ideally, bu the time they are in their careers or building families of their own, they will have the tenacity and self-confidence to manage whatever comes their way.

So while not bringing my son his homework may seem a bit harsh, this experience was actually a gift to his future-self. And when he came home from school that day, he mentioned that he had forgotten his homework, told me his teacher would need to check it tomorrow, and independently made sure he put it directly into his backpack.

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