Learning from Mistakes Helps Your Child Develop and Grow


kelli-author-banner 101613 As parents, we wish for our kids to thrive and be independent, successful adults. Did you know that one of the factors interfering with that wish is being overly involved, also known as, “helicopter parenting?” A helicopter parent is one who pays extremely close attention to their child’s experiences. In other words, an overprotective parent who “hovers,” solves all their child’s problems and makes most of their decisions. Although parents have the best intentions to protect and help their children, like most things in life, over doing it can be harmful and affect children into their adulthood. Helicopter parenting interferes with a child’s ability to develop independence, self-esteem, self-worth as well as the ability to problem solve. To help shed light on this issue and provide tips, I partnered with Stephanie Marcy, PhD, psychologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Am I a Helicopter Parent?

Some parents may not realize they’re being a helicopter parent. For instance, hovering over your child can happen at all levels of your child’s development. “Parents who hover over their children too much in anticipation of failure deprive their children of important learning and growing opportunities,” Dr. Marcy said. There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for your child, but giving your child an opportunity to experience getting dirty, other kids not sharing and making mistakes will help them learn and develop independence.

Here are some simple signs of impacting a child’s ability to learn from error and grow:

  • Carrying a diaper bag filled with every item (including the kitchen sink). It begins with the fear of not having everything your infant may need.
  • Toddlers who are never allowed to get dirty.
  • Toddlers who don’t get to experience the independence of holding their own cup, food or spoon.
  • Speaking on behalf of your child when there is an issue of sharing or insisting that your child be included during play dates or activities at school.
  • Being an overly involved parent at school. For example, talking constantly with teachers at every chance and influencing teachers to change grades, for example, from a B+ to an A-.
  • Bringing homework assignments, missing sports equipment to school whenever your child forgets it, on multiple occasions.
  • Doing or finishing your child’s homework assignments.
  • Writing your child’s college personal essay for their college admissions applications.
  • Contacting your (grown) child’s employer if there is an employer and employee issue at work.

Learning from Mistakes Helps Your Child Develop and Grow

These actions are all meant with good intentions. Overly advocating and intervening with teachers, coaches and employers will inhibit your child’s ability to be independent. There is a thin line for when a parent should step in and when to let a child learn from their own mistakes. A lot of life lessons are learned from falling down and being able to pick yourself up. “Allowing a child to learn from trial and error facilitates self-confidence, pride and a sense of accomplishment, which is important for kids of all ages,” confirms Dr. Marcy. Parental instinct is to protect and it is also allowing children to thrive and spread their own wings to be able to soar. Dr. Marcy on the importance of allowing your child to learn from failure,

“If the child attempts something and fails, and then the parent steps in immediately and just does it for them, the child is not learning how to tolerate frustration related to failure and learning, instead, to give up and have someone else do it for them.”

Your child’s mistakes and failures do not mean you are a bad parent. It takes courage to allow your child to grow.

When is it Okay to Step in and Get Involved?

  • If your child is at risk for physical or emotional harm. For example, if bullying is taking place, my fellow RN Remedies blogger, Gloria, wrote about how you can play a role in preventing bulling in this blog post.
  • If your child is being bullied at school, day care or other places. Many schools have programs to manage student bullying and it is appropriate to speak with the school administrator about the problem.
  • Ask your child. You can assess how much to be involved by asking your child how they feel about the troubling situation. They may want to resolve with very little of your involvement.

Help Your Child Be More Independent

  • Let your toddler try to feed himself yogurt with a spoon. Many parents are so afraid of their child making a mess that they insist on feeding them rather than letting them explore and learn on their own, suggests Dr. Marcy.
  • If your child is having difficulty in school or with an assignment, have them talk to the teacher. When they earn a letter grade themselves they will have improved self-esteem.
  • Let children experience consequences for their own actions. Forgetting homework or sports equipment will help build own responsibility for their action.
  • When a troubling issue arises, give your child a few days to work it out themselves. Check back to see if the issue still exists and then offer some advice and role play.

Parenting and not “hovering” will help your child grow to adulthood and be able to handle the normal demands of life. Doing what is best for our children is sometimes allowing them to figure it out themselves.  It is about a balance of when to step in and when to let them handle it. Support them regardless of the outcome.