Letting your child make bad decisions is good for them


It doesn’t make you a bad parent if your child makes a bad decision.  Let’s get this one out of the way right now.  Your child’s bad decision is not a reflection on your parenting.  What is important is actually how they (and you) deal with it, and what your child learns from the experience.

We all want our kids to have happy successful lives. Sometimes it’s tempting to think that preventing them from making ‘bad decisions’ is the way that you can help them achieve that.

Psychologically we may also feel that if we let our child make a bad decision that we have somehow failed as parents.

But a bad decision can create a vitally important ‘teachable moment’ in a young person’s life.

If you are constantly fighting with your child or teen about their decisions and using your position of power to stop them making what you consider to be ‘bad’ decisions, you can potentially set them up for a lifetime of failure.

Effectively you are teaching them that they cannot trust themselves, and that the worst thing they can do in life is make a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting as parents we all sit back and let our kids do whatever they want.  Good advice, guidance and rules based on your experience and knowledge is incredibly valuable and should be provided.  There is also a time and place to exercise your parental power to prevent irreparable harm to your child or others,but that’s not every decision they make.  

If once you’ve imparted some wisdom, your child is adamant they are going to go ahead anyway.  Step back.  Hold your tongue (and your breath) and wait to see what happens next.

Give them the space to fail.

One of three things will happen, it may well turn out to be a brilliant decision, something that makes all the difference to your child’s life in ways you could never have foreseen and you and your child can celebrate their success.

Or it will make no material difference one way or the other, except that you trusted them to make the decision.

Or it will end badly, with fall out, and they will learn about failure.

Hold that “Told you so”, and whatever you do, don’t leap in to fix everything for them.  What you do next is actually far more powerful in raising successful, resilient adults.

Your next step, is to provide some more practical advice and insight.  Yes, that’s right, what you did in the first place.  The thing that they ignored to get here.

The difference is, right now your child is far more willing to listen and learn. That ‘teachable moment’ has arrived.  This is where good parents can impart wisdom and insight. Teaching their kids how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back out there in life, when something doesn’t go the way they thought it would.

Mistakes and bad decisions will happen in life, even with the best of information. Successful adults acknowledge a mistake or bad decision, and then deal with consequences in a practical and pro-active way.

Raising children and teens is hard work. Teachable moments, or unplanned opportunities where you have a chance to offer insight don’t happen every day.

By giving your young person room to fail, you are building trust in a relationship that can often be strained by the fight for independence as they get older. Trust is a critical component in the success of teachable moments, when they do arise.  Research has shown that when a ‘learner’ trusts, and feels accepted and understood, by the ‘teacher’, they are more open to learning when those moments arise.

So, steel your nerve and give your child space to fail. Support them to to deal with the consequences if it goes badly.  Rest assured, it is one of the most powerful things you can do to raise successful adults.


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