Parenting children

Why Screwing Up Is Good for Your Kids

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Sometimes you get to the point where you are sick and tired of rescuing your kid from disaster. children's success

It’s not like you don’t care. You do. But eventually you start to wonder if maybe your son isn't doomed for life if you don't stay up until 2 am to finish that (very, very overdue) science paper.

Or maybe, just maybe, your 13 year old daughter won’t melt into a puddle of steaming goo if you let her take the bus after she refuses to get out of bed on time – for the third time this week.

Somewhere in the deep recesses of your brain (the one that used to function a lot faster way back when) you know it’s not the greatest way to teach your kids responsibility, independence, or any of those other high-falutin’ ideas you used to trumpet when the kids were still cute little balls of fat that spit up on you occasionally.

But somehow watching your kids fail feels like getting a test back full of red x’s.

Wonder why? Read on. 

We assign importance to even the littlest of



In the scheme of things, whether or not your child is a master chef is probably not on the top of your bucket list.

So when your child adds the wrong proportion of ingredients while trying to make a batch of cookies – and refuses to listen to the voice of reason (i.e. you), you find yourself nagging and warning and worrying them to death about the dire consequences of not adding enough cinnamon to the cookie dough.

Double ditto for the helicopter moms and dads out there. You people have way too much time on your hands.

It sucks watching your child mess up.


Remember when your child was little and learning to walk? Yeah, it was painful watching them fall numerous times a day – bumping tender elbows and knees and smacking freshly -shampooed heads hard on the floor.

And if it wasn’t enough that your nearest and dearest had to get hurt, somehow it always felt like a scene out of Poltergeist: you had plenty of time to watch it happen, but never enough time to get there and stop it before someone got hurt.

And as kids get older, it doesn’t really get any better. True, you get to stop holding out your arms like Frankenstein trying to catch your child before they fall over air molecules. But you still have to watch while their failures are increasingly messier – and even public – affairs.

It sucks being the one responsible for making

your child mess up.


Once you get over watching your child get hurt, you then get to be the one that hurts them.

I don’t mean that literally of course.

What I’m referring to is our power to inflict consequences, in the hopes of keeping our children on the straight and narrow.

When I was a kid, we had to climb snow covered mountains on the way to school -both ways you did things because your parents told you to. We didn't even bother asking why (most of the time), because a) the answer would be “Because I told you so,” (which you knew already) and b) the child who had the temerity to ask why was “asking for it” or “cruisin’ for a bruisin’ as a good friend of mine once put it.

But nowadays, we live, so I’m told, in a kinder and gentler time. So people are really into making sure your kids have logical consequences, so they can learn the error of their ways.

That means that whenever possible, you’re supposed to use logical consequences in order to discipline your child. Now, technically, logical consequences make parenting easier because they teach your child the way of the world without you ever having to lift a hand.

But that’s only if you don’t wimp out and cave in when your child looks at you with those big eyes of hers.

Being the bad guy all of the time kind of wears on you. Most normal people don’t want to be the ones that make their kids suffer, even if it’s only a little bit.

On top of everything, once you finally do get the courage to administer a few much needed consequences, some kids won’t sit and take their logical consequences like good little boys and girls.

Some of them get really nasty – particularly teenagers - and after a while you start wishing The Hunger Games were real. Not so you could find out what happens to Katniss and Peeta, but so that you can volunteer your kid as tribute.

It’s not all bad though.

Why screwing up is really good for your kids.


That’s because ultimately, screwing up –failing- isn’t a bad thing.

Failure isn’t about losing. It isn’t about being incompetent, mediocre, or the world’s biggest loser.

When we fail, we’re not making a statement about ourselves: we’re simply discovering that the response we chose didn’t work.

Let’s hear that one more time for good measure: Failure is simply an opportunity to discover what we did wrong, so that we can do things differently next time.

Do you see how powerful that statement is? It gives you the freedom to stop thinking of consequences as punishments, and to start thinking of them as learning opportunities.

It means that the next time your child messes up, or is about to mess up, you can take your ego out of the picture, since your self-image has nothing to do with your child having a learning opportunity. Instead, you can take the time to commiserate, empathize, and just provide a shoulder to lean on.

And if you’re really lucky, they might even ask for your advice.



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1 Comment
  • Dewayne Brewer Jan 29,2013 at 10:05 pm

    Traditional punishments involve taking away something the child likes or imposing something the child doesn’t like that have nothing to do with the behavior, but rather with punishing children. Logical consequences may also involve taking away something children like, but only something logically related to the misbehavior, something children are not yet able to handle responsibly. Or they may involve imposing something children dislike, but only something logically related to the misbehavior, usually by having children take responsibility for correcting the problems they have caused. Logical consequences are an effective means of teaching children responsibility. Token Punishments Sometimes, when natural consequences appear to be ineffective, it can be very difficult to come up with appropriate, effective logical consequences. In such cases, I have found token punishments to be helpful. Traditional punishments are usually calculated to be proportional to misbehavior in some way. The more serious the misbehavior, the more severe the penalty. The goal is to make children feel punished sufficiently to pay for, or more than pay for, their misbehavior. With token punishments, the punishment is too mild to allow children to feel that they have paid for their misbehavior. The goal is to avoid making children feel that they have been punished sufficiently.

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