Helping Children Succeed By Allowing Them to Fail

By Lori Baker-Schena, Ed. D.

Letting Kids Fail Parenting


Nothing is stronger than the parental urge to protect our children. It’s deep in our DNA.

Yet this instinct, taken to the extreme, actually makes our children vulnerable as they grow into adulthood. As a university professor, I had a front-row seat for the coming of age of several young millennials, who often were afraid to step outside their comfort zones. Their fear turned into paralysis and, after college, they simply became stuck … and miserable.

Post-college career and lifestyle choices are not usually on the radar of parents with young children. But they should be, because the successes and failures children experience growing up give them the tools to cope with the real world. When you are over protective in your parenting, you aren’t doing them any good.

If children do not experience failure, they do not learn the coping skills necessary to turn that failure into opportunity. If every player on every team receives a trophy, where is your child’s motivation to excel? If you argue with your child’s elementary school teacher because your son or daughter “unfairly” received a B rather than an A, where is your child’s motivation to work harder?

This parental fear of failure prevents children from achieving authentic success. We are stealing their confidence. We are stealing their futures.

Instead of shielding your children from failure, I encourage you to prepare them for life’s inevitable bumps in the road through these five tips:

Encourage your children. Encouragement is the foundation that fosters success. Encouragement builds self-esteem, confidence and a “can-do” attitude. As your children begin to explore their passions – from dance to drama, basketball to bicycling – avoid negative phrases that might plant doubt in their minds. If your child wants to join a choir, but can’t hold a tune, let him or her figure that out. Your child just might surprise you. If an activity does not pan out, give your child kudos for trying.

Don’t be an enabler. It is easier to do something yourself than to take the time to teach your child a new skill. But if you don’t teach your children to tie their own shoes, complete their own homework, make their own lunches, do their own laundry, cook their own meals or write their own college essays, you are sending them off to adulthood without the skills they need to become responsible, successful grown-ups.

Engender trust. When you don’t allow your children to take risks, you send the subtle message that you don’t trust them. Obviously, you need to protect your children from physical harm. But if you don’t let them learn to ice skate, work at a pizza restaurant or drive a car on the freeway, you are demonstrating your lack of trust that they can accomplish these milestones. Trust breeds confidence.

Empower your children. Give them the chance to fail, and help them learn from their mistakes. It is the greatest gift you can give them. If your child receives a low grade and you think it should be higher, and then take up the matter directly with the teacher, you are not helping your child learn to deal with constructive criticism. Children will be evaluated all of their lives – from school test scores to job reviews. They need the experience of being evaluated and critiqued. By stepping in to “defend” them, you are robbing them of a chance to learn to cope with the real world. Instead of rushing in to rescue them when situations become rough, teach them to speak up on their own behalf.

Model the way. I think it is interesting that so many parents are afraid to try something new. Whether it is moving on from a dead-end job, finding new ways to achieve work-life balance or re-entering the workforce, this fear of failure – and fear of the unknown – keeps us stuck. As you look for ways to empower your child to become a strong, confident adult, I encourage you to look inward and start working on your own confidence level. Model to your children what a confident, strong, satisfied adult looks like. It will set the entire family on a positive course.

Lori Baker-Schena ParentingLori Baker-Schena, Ed. D., a Los Angeles native, a mother, step-mother and grandmother. She nurtured and encouraged thousands of college students in her two decades as a journalism professor at Cal State Northridge. She is also the founder and CEO of Baker Schena Communications, a firm that specializes in motivational speaking and leadership consulting. Follow her motivational blog at

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  1. As a family life educator and author of “Single and ApParent” I remind parents how they are always modeling to and teaching their children whether it is realized or not. Thank you for this article!

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