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Roxanna Sarmiento publishes Everyday Treats, a blog about living well every day, and The Frog & Snail, a lifestyle blog for parents of boys.

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Letting Your Kids Fail

By Roxanna Sarmiento |

Aly Raisman source: wikimedia commons

Have you been watching the Olympics? You probably have.

I have been as well, of course, and while the athletes are the main attraction, this is the first year I feel for the parents. No, really, I feel for the moms and dads on the stands and watching on television back at home, even tough I’m nowhere near being one of them.

Like you, I laughed as gymnast Aly Raisman’s hilariously adorable parents squirmed and clutched at their chests as they watched their daughter’s lifetime dreams balance precariously on the slimmest of balance beams. But more than laughter, I felt a kinship with them and all the Olympic parents. Every time I’ve seen Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps face off in the pool, every time a gymnast didn’t stick a landing, my thoughts went to the parents — how proud they must be. How much they sacrificed so that their kids could be at the Olympics. But mostly, I think about how strong they are to get them so far and to allow them to fail — because there is only one gold medal, and only one athlete can win it. Hard work and skills and talent have a lot to to do with it, but so does luck. And that, is out of your hands, no matter how much you love your kids.

My kids may not be competing for shiny medals in front of the world, but I can understand what it is like to let your children stretch themselves so far that failure is a real possibility. I didn’t sleep the night before summer camp started — and I’m not even talking about sleepaway camp here — because I knew it would be hard for one of my kids. I was this close to not sending him to this particular camp — one that focused on outdoor activities, and where he would have to choose how to spend his time because I know how he freezes up when he has to make a decision. Outdoor sports have been a challenge, because he gets distracted by everything. But we’ve been working towards this seemingly small step on the road to independence and I knew that it was the right thing to do. I knew that it might not work out, that he might be miserable, that he might prefer something easier — but we sent him anyway, because we also knew it would be good for him. Even if he refused to leave my side at the two pre-camp open houses, and he cried the week before at the thought that he might be in a new group of kids he didn’t know and that there would be new things to try.

We sent him. We knew he needed it.

And yes, of course he is loving it.

You probably could have guessed that, right? It’s how things go with kids. It’s time for something new, and they may or may not be apprehensive about it, but as parents we have to decide when it is time to let them try something new – even if it is likely that they will fail.

We all know that’s what you’re supposed to do, to let your kids go. To let them run too fast, even though they might fall and scrape their knees. To encourage them to ask the girl out, even if she might say no and break their hearts. To apply to their dream school even though there is no guarantee they’ll get in.

Letting your children go so far that they can almost certainly fail is hard. But still, we have to let them. In fact, we have to give them opportunities to fail and fail often. I’m hoping I get better with practice, because I fully intend to encourage them to fail.

It’s the only way to grow.

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Roxanna Sarmiento

Roxanna Sarmiento publishes Everyday Treats, a blog about living well every day, and The Frog & Snail, a lifestyle blog for parents of boys. Read bio and latest posts → Read Roxanna's latest posts →

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2 thoughts on “Letting Your Kids Fail

  1. P says:

    Thanks for this post it is exactly how I feel as a mother. My 5 1/2yrs old has been in gymnastic for 2yrs and to this day she is the only girl among her friends who cannot do even half a cartwheel, some of her friends can do even they never been to gymnastic! She can barely hang on the monkey bar let along go across it. Bicycle with training wheels? Of course, but only if she can paddle it forward! She really is the most uncoordinated kid you’ll ever seen(sometimes I wonder was it because she didn’t crawl much back then?) This summer we sent her to a tennis camp and a basketball camp, for the reason of we know it will be good for her. We want her to know being a girl can be good at sports as much as the boys and can enjoy sports just like the boys. And simply being outside and active and be exposed to these sports are good for her.
    Of course, to what I expected, she’s the only kid who can barely hit the (big, kid version)ball after 4 tennis sessions, and only made 1 basket after 7 Sundays of basketball camp when her teammates of about the same age are shooting up a storm. But what amazes me in this is, I see a strong, a very strong girl — even she realized she is not as “accomplished” as her peers, she never gives up and she allows herself to keep trying. She stays open minded every time we introduce her to a new sport even though she probably already knows she might not be good at it or even likes it. But she goes without reservation and at the end of the day she always find fun in the company of her new friends or coach.

    My daughter probably will never be an athlete(she does love swimming and we dive in the pool together few times a week, what a waste she’s a lefty could have made a great pitcher or, fencing anyone?) but i see what I really want to see in my child and I’m so proud she has it in her — she doesn’t have to win or be the best one to have fun, it doesn’t bother her maybe at least at this age or maybe she simply isn’t a competitive type. She doesn’t give a damn! (good and bad in that but I’ll worry about that later) And most importantly, this not yet 6yrs old is always open for new adventure, always excited to dive in and makes friends along the way. If she doesn’t make bad choices, life will be so good for her.

    The other day she asked to try ice skating again — we did last Oct only until the 3rd lesson and she fell flat and landed on her elbow, not in the rink but by simply running to me at pick up on school playground. See I told you she is not the most coordinated kid. But if she’s brave enough to try, I’m happy to let her fall.

  2. P says:

    Thanks for this post it is exactly how I feel as a mother. My 5 1/2yrs old has been in gymnastic for 2yrs and to this day she is the only girl among her friends who cannot do even half a cartwheel, some of her friends can do even they never been to gymnastic! She can barely hang on the monkey bar let along go across it. Bicycle with training wheels? Of course, but only if she can paddle it forward! She really is the most uncoordinated kid you’ll ever seen(sometimes I wonder was it because she didn’t crawl much back then?)  This summer we sent her to a tennis camp and a basketball camp, for the reason of we know it will be good for her. We want her to know being a girl can be good at sports as much as the boys and can enjoy sports just like the boys. And simply being outside and active and be exposed to these sports are good for her. 
    Of course, to what I expected, she’s the only kid who can barely hit the (big, kid version)ball after 4 tennis sessions, and only made 1 basket after 7 Sundays of basketball camp when her teammates of about the same age are shooting up a storm. But what amazes me in this is, I see a strong, a very strong girl — even she realized she is not as “accomplished” as her peers, she never gives up and she allows herself to keep trying. She stays open minded every time we introduce her to a new sport even though she probably already knows she might not be good at it or even likes it. But she goes without reservation and at the end of the day she always find fun in the company of her new friends or coach.

    My daughter probably will never be an athlete(she does love swimming and we dive in the pool together few times a week, what a waste she’s a lefty could have made a great pitcher or, fencing anyone?) but i see what I really want to see in my child and I’m so proud she has it in her — she doesn’t have to win or be the best one to have fun, it doesn’t bother her maybe at least at this age or maybe she simply isn’t a competitive type. She doesn’t give a damn! (good and bad in that but I’ll worry about that later) And most importantly, this not yet 6yrs old is always open for new adventure, always excited to dive in and makes friends along the way. If she doesn’t make bad choices, life will be so good for her.

    The other day she asked to try ice skating again — we did last Oct only until the 3rd lesson and she fell flat and landed on her elbow, not in the rink but by simply running to me at pick up on school playground. See I told you she is not the most coordinated kid. But if she’s brave enough to try, I’m ok to let her fail.

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