The Surprising Truth: Sometimes Parents Need to Let Their Kids FailBrian Gresko
Not every time, but often, he will lash out when I reprimand him, either by sticking out his tongue, or screaming, or giving me a light slap. Oh, little boys! They can be beasts in cute clothing.
In the face of his outbursts, I’m presented with two options. Accept that his reaction indicates he’s embarrassed, or feels bad about his behavior, and let it go without remark. Or else tell him that his reaction is inappropriate, and perhaps punish him for it.
I make the call based on the extremity of his response. Hitting me — or throwing the remote control — means I’m going to say something, because that’s wrong. The other stuff, like the spitting, while gross or annoying, I might ignore.
Parents are faced with these kinds of discipline options all the time, everyday. How much do you call your kid out on their inappropriate behavior? This is especially important to consider when doing so means dealing with additional disciplinary action. For example, when I snapped at Felix for tossing the remote he then launched himself at me like The Juggernaut, ripping my shirt and scratching my hand. Oy.
Of course, in a social setting like school Felix is going to need to know how to deal with an authority figure. If he tackles his teacher for telling him to put away his toys and circle up on the rug, there’s going to be problems. It’s part of my responsibility to let my son know when his behavior is not up to expectations. And it’s important for me to maintain high expectations for him, and not accept aggressive, nasty, rude, or lazy behavior.
It’s just so much easier in theory then it is in practice! No wonder so many parents let their toddlers’ bad behavior go without punishment or correction. Even as I write this, a little boy hammers against the wall of the cafe while his mom sits, texting on her smartphone. She’s tilted her body away from him, giving all indication she’s ignoring him. If only it were so easy for the rest of us.
Recently, on The Marketing to Moms website, I read that while 89% of mothers think failure is healthy for their children, 40% would use a magic wand and protect their child from ever falling. I think of Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones, who has coddled, protected, and encouraged her son Joffrey to the point that he’s literally become a little tyrant, answerable to none. (We’ll see how that plays out for him.)
In addition, the site says that:
Among Moms of older, college-bound or college-age kids, 48% feel anxious about their children making decisions on their own and 27% worry that their child will not make the right decisions unless Mom is there to help every step of the way. This involvement continues well into the college years with 33% of Moms helping college-age kids pick their classes.
Wow, talk about over-involved!
There’s a connection, I think, between that misbehaving toddler and that coddled college brat. Disciplining your child means telling them that they haven’t done a good job at behavior. It means, in other words, telling them that they’ve failed to live up to your expectations, and that you know they can do better. Of course this aspect of parenting totally sucks. Not everyone wants to be the person holding the bar, saying “This is how we treat other people. This is how we eat our pasta at the dinner table. This is how we take care of a remote control. And right now, you’re not measuring up, so change that behavior!”
But parents, if we don’t do this, then we’re the ones failing.
Writing it out like that makes me sound like a Debby Downer at best, if not a full on parenting kill joy. Relax, Brian! Your son is four-years-old. A little misbehaving never hurt anyone.
I disagree. Protecting him from failure encourages Felix to see himself as above-the-law — which isn’t a view unique to Felix, but a vantage point all little kids occupy at some point in their development. We need to help them through it, by encouraging a healthy sense of pride around accomplishments, and also gently pointing out when they’re not doing their best. We need to let them fail sometimes, so that they gain the motivation to try and succeed, and become sensible risk takers, young adults who will, eventually, be able to operate on their own in the world and not need us to select their classes for them.
So don’t protect your kids and shelter them. Don’t wave that magic wand, even if you could. And don’t ignore their bad behavior. Be a good parent and let them know that you expect better! It might cause them a little grief now, but they’ll be better for it in the long run.