Giving Kids Tools to Succeed Before Allowing Them to Fail
“Don’t be afraid to let your kid face the consequences of bad decisions. You have to let him fail so he can learn he wants to succeed.”
The advice was given to me in a semi-private forum where I’d complained out loud about the epic four-hour-long homework session with Link last Sunday. I wanted to answer back that they’d misunderstood the dilemma, that my son was not being defiant, but every answer I could compose sounded like I was self-defensively missing their point or would require so much background information that I would bore everyone.
Yes parents need to let kids fail, but before they allow it they first have to make sure that the kid actually has the tools to succeed. In this case, Link does not. In theory he ought to. By 10th grade kids should have already learned how to track homework and have a basic comprehension that work must be completed before it is due. Link does not. His entire educational experience has been about adjusting, recalibrating assignments, and letting him make up work he misunderstood or did not finish. Those adjustments were necessary at the time, but now is the time to learn different skills. He needs to learn to turn in all of his assignments on time, that if an assignment needs accommodation that must be agreed upon in advance. He needs to learn to read every paper handed to him and to not wait for adults to explain what he should do. He needs to learn to figure out what he doesn’t understand in class and then ask questions about it.
Truth be told, his current teachers would let him continue as he has been. It says right there on his IEP that he’s allowed extra time on assignments. They would accept late work and not dock it down points. They would be kind and explain. They would lighten the work load when Link seemed overwhelmed. There was a time where that willingness was a saving grace for us. Now it is not what Link needs for his long term growth. What he needs is for me to sit next to him, for four hours, not moving until the journal entry is written, because it is due the next day. Link sat next to me, wanting to do the assignment, wanting to please me, yet wrestling with himself because part of his brain was resisting the work with all of its might. So right now I’m heavily involved in tracking Link’s work and making him do it. Once he is in the habit of doing all assignments on time, once he realizes that is a thing it is possible to do, then I will step back and let him succeed or fail at it under his own power. Link needs to learn that he is strong enough to do hard things, because all of his life people have been adapting for him and that has made him believe himself weak.
I find it interesting that I got similarly hands-on with Kiki at this point in her Sophomore year as well. By January of that year I stepped back and let her handle things again. Already I can see improvement in how Link is doing. The battles Link is having with himself are smaller and more easily won. Most importantly, I can feel that this path is right, so we’ll keep walking.
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