It is difficult for a parent of any child to sit back and allow their child to make a mistake. Most parents go out of their way to protect their children from everything from bumps and bruises to emotional upset. However, at some point part of being a good parent is letting go and watching them move through unfamiliar territory WITHOUT holding their hand. Even though you may be able to see with your own eyes full of wisdom that they are making a bad decision, you are advised to let them go. The reason is simple. Very few people ever learn from other people’s mistakes and until your child experiences life first hand, they will not be able to devise their own warning system that consists of common sense and experience.
When you child is a toddler, it is easy to protect them. The most difficult thing they may do is try to climb a fence that is too high, or do somersaults on the pavement. You simply tell them they will get hurt with a sharp ‘no’ that frightens them and cross your fingers that they never try it again. What you will find is that they will try it again. As soon as they are aware from your watchful eye, they will approach the same fence and learn how to place their feet in the footholds of chain link. Yes, they might get hurt. They might even break a bone. However, your efforts may be better served to allow them to climb the fence and stand close by to catch them just in case they do fall. If they scale it successfully and find themselves on the greener pasture offered by the other side, you will be privileged to witness firsthand their very own sense of pride and accomplishment. In many arenas of life, this is where confidence is built. If a child doesn’t think they are too little, too weak, too sick or too small then why would any parent want to place that cloud of doubt in their head?
Age makes allowing children to make their own mistakes more difficult. Suddenly, their decisions and mistakes can lead to bigger problems with academics and friends. They have peer pressure to deal with and a host of questions, concerns and circumstances that could lead them to trouble. They may not be able to budget their time or stand up against the bully at school. They may have to learn the playground pecking order at elementary school and they will learn a lot about the state of friendships. While their injuries may not be physically painful, they are definitely emotionally scarring. Yet again, taking away the opportunity for them to make bad decisions and realize the consequences rob them of real life exposure that will make them better people. Your job again is to stand by the fence, catching them when they fall. Rather than stand by with a shaming ‘I told you so’ try to dig deep and help them overcome. Whether the hurt is handed down by a friend or results in a disciplinary action at school you have to remain on their side. There is no use in feeling bad about not warning them, they would not have listened anyways.
One benefit to allowing children to make their own mistakes is that you help to foster honesty. Children learn early in life what sort of limitations they have with mom and dad. They know that if mom takes them hiking she won’t allow them to pick the blackberries, but that dad will not only allow them to pick them he will let them run free 100 yards ahead. If mom were there, she would be yapping about snakes in the grass or trying to lather bug spray on her child’s shoulders. So each time the chance to go blackberry picking arises, whom do you think they are going to task to take them. The same is true as your child gets older. If your child gets the sense that you trust them, and that you will be there for them no matter what mess they get into they are less likely to hide things from you. Teens become dishonest because they assume they already know their parents response to things. Instead of asking to go to a party, they will pretend to be sleeping over at a trusted friend’s house and then go behind your back. The problem is that this leaves you completely unable to be standing at the fence to catch them.
When you become a parent, there are suddenly things that you just know. All of the sudden you see dangers and problems in places that before looked completely safe. Your judgment about people changes drastically and you see the world from a whole new viewpoint. It is important to remember that your own vision probably didn’t change until you saw the world with all the dangers that could come to your own child. It seems unrealistic to expect a child of any age to feel or think as you do. Without risks, life is boring and few people including you, would become all they can be. Letting go of your child, allowing them to make mistakes (even big ones), and being there to help them get back up when they fall off the fences that stand in their way, is the entire point of parenting. Obviously, you want to provide leadership and direction. This leadership however should employ many tactics that get your child to think on their own and make decisions in their own best interest without having to look to you for guidance. If you take this opportunity away from your child, you cripple them for a lifetime.