No one likes to see their child upset. But when children never feel the pain as a result of their choices, they are set up to repeat this cycle. The choices become greater and the child never learns the lesson. I often say in sessions, “If don’t allow them to feel, you may be dealing with a 30-year-old on your sofa that you are responsible for.”
Immediately, the families say, “No, we don’t want that.”
From there, I usually ask for one small task that you can make your child responsible for. The task itself doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s age-appropriate. Taking care of a pet. Putting out the trash. Cleaning up after dinner. Helping with yard work. Tasks like these give children a sense of responsibility and an understanding that their choices matter.
Even better is the idea that consequences are tied to these tasks because, as we all know, sometimes kids learn best from their mistakes. So when they forget to take out the trash or do their homework, make it a point to explain (or issue) consequences for their mistake. Show them how this poor choice led to whatever consequence you impose, and how they could keep this from happening in the future.
Children and teenagers learn important lessons from their mistakes. They also learn confidence and emotional regulation. As tempting as it is, swooping in to fix the problem isn’t helpful. No one likes to see their child unhappy or distressed, but that’s part of life, and shielding them from it never works. At some point, you have to trust what you have instilled. Children need to exercise what they have been taught. This is why it’s so important to let kids fail sometimes.
As with all things in life, there’s a delicate balance between letting kids learn from mistakes and protecting them from danger. Not doing one’s homework and experimenting with drugs are two very different kinds of mistakes that call for different approaches. Always step in when the consequences are life or death.
Always remember, the best gift you can give your kids is the gift of being self-confident and independent. Not only will this help them live a good and fulfilling life, but it will also keep them off your couch as adults.
Danny L. Ross is a certified school counselor and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas with over 18 years of combined experience in teaching, school counseling, social services, and clinical counseling. Mr. Ross specializes in issues including child and adolescent, grief and complicated grief, anger, depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and family relationships. He is the owner-operator of DLR Counseling Group in Arlington, Texas.