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If you love winning, raise your hand. (Is your hand raised? I’m guessing so.) 

If you love losing, raise your hand. (Sitting comfortably with your hands in your lap?) 

Let’s ask a different question. When you think about the most valuable lessons you have learned in your lifetime, did more of them come from a success or a failure? 

Here is where we often base our parenting decisions on emotion rather than statistical evidence. According to Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, our desire to keep our children from experiencing pain overrides even our own life experiences about learning from failure. As she keenly points out, “Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of the way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. 

Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient citizens of this world.” 

Jessica implores us as parents to evaluate our actions and reactions to our children’s failures in light of what we rob them of when we rescue them. Think back to your own childhood … I’ll bet you have a story similar to mine. In fourth grade our class went to the library to check out biographies. I don’t remember why, but I chose George Washington Carver. I loved to read and eagerly started on my book as soon as I got home. However, unlike the Beverly Cleary books of my lazy afternoons, old George wasn’t really so interesting. My interest quickly waned and I forgot about the looming book report deadline. When the day came, I just didn’t turn anything in. When the teacher handed back everyone’s reports a few days later, I received a form with my name, the assignment, and a big “F” circled in red pen. Having never received an “F” before, I wasn’t really worried until I realized the form had a line for “parent signature” underneath. Begrudgingly, I took the form home and had to explain to my mother (a life-long teacher herself) that I failed for not turning in a report. 

If this were a modern sitcom, you could hear the parental yelling in the next room. But my mom calmly explained to me she would sign the form, but only after I read the book and wrote the report. She really didn’t make a big deal about it because she firmly believed that my school was my responsibility. She had not failed, I had failed. She was not a bad parent, nor was I a bad student. I made a choice that led to a consequence and now I had to pay the piper. So I dutifully read the book, wrote the report, and turned it in. Guess what? My grade didn’t change. I still had an “F.” But I learned a valuable lesson. I did not like the feeling of earning a bad grade. Notice I said “earning,” not “receiving;” the teacher did not give me an “F” like a gift. I had not done the work when it was due; therefore, I earned the “F.”. 

Throughout the rest of my schooling, I worked hard to earn my good grades. I knew I never wanted to feel that pit in my stomach again from not giving my best. We would never want to rob our children of the joy of winning the state basketball tournament after a season of hard work. How can we view their opportunity to experience the agony of defeat in the same way? When you wonder how to help facilitate long-term change in your child’s behavior, consider the value of letting them experience the natural consequences of their own choices. 

Failure is a valuable teacher. Give your child the opportunity to learn, don’t rob them of the chance to learn from their own mistakes. As Henry Ford said, “Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.”

The school year. The excitement of new notebooks and new pens and colored pencils. The fun of seeing friends after the summer and settling back into a routine. The thrill for parents of micromanaging the details of their child’s homework, sports schedules, play practices, and club meetings. What, you don’t love micromanaging all of this? Where is your helicopter? If the anticipation of the school year keeps you awake at night, we have some ideas for you. What if this year you transition your student to owning his or her homework, grades, and activities? “Seriously?” you ask. “Let Mark remember to bring his practice uniform on soccer days and bring it home to be washed? He might scare off all the ladies with his three day sweat-infused socks. Count on Michaela to pack her backpack the night before so she is on time to homeroom? Without reminding her? Are you kidding?” No. Not kidding. Depending on the age of your son or daughter, it is very likely that you are clinging to some responsibilities that would be better transitioned over to them.

Let’s think about what it looks like to step back so your child steps forward. What is one school responsibility you have been holding onto that your son or daughter could totally manage? Consider these and other possibilities:

Remember, it is not about knowing they can successfully manage their school responsibilities today. It’s about giving them the opportunities to grow into successfully managing them. There will probably be some mistakes and maybe (if needed) some coaching along the way—but that’s part of learning how to step forward on their own with confidence.

As a foster parent, psychotherapist, and expert in family and teen therapy, Amy Morin—author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do—has witnessed first-hand what works: “When children have the skills they need to deal with challenges in their everyday lives, they can flourish socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically. With appropriate support, encouragement, and guidance from adults, kids grow stronger and become better.”

Talk with your kids about what they think they can manage themselves. Ask them how they will transition to own this skill. What do they want from you and what can you count on them for? Do they (or you) need a check-off list or chart? If so, ask them to make it. Do they need a reminder? What would a good reminder be (sticky note on the door or mirror, alarm on their phone or automated reminder on the phone, note on the fridge)? Have them set it up and take ownership of it.

Try your best not to nag, remind, helicopter, over-check, or do any of these things while pretending not to. This is letting them learn. Giving them the chance to succeed or fail or fall somewhere in between. It is ok. The stakes are small. This does not go on your permanent record (and even if it does, it is better to have a ding on a school record than to start one with the police). If you set a reasonable timeframe for them to manage this skill, you can have a check-in conversation at the end. If they make a mistake in the middle, refrain from correcting. It’s fine to ask if they need any help, but unless they say “yes,” back away and continue to let them work toward owning this. If they blow it, give them a Mulligan. This is the crux of leading your child on the path toward responsible, unentitled adulthood. They have to try hard things and feel the full brunt of their decisions and actions. They have to feel the feeling of achievement when they succeed without any parental involvement. This is the “high” we want them to feel. This is what we want them to seek more of. You will be amazed when they get going on this and start to take on more and more responsibility without your help in the process.

The rewards for this are monumental. They feel proud of their maturity. You feel proud of their accomplishment. This builds trust and mutual respect for your ongoing relationship. They feel empowered to move on to bigger and better things. You can enjoy the break from feeling responsible for everything. The goal becomes finding new things to move from your plate to theirs. The helicopter has landed.


Most parents have a vision for their children from the time they are young.  This vision usually includes a dream of a cap and gown, their graduate getting a job, moving out, and living successfully on their own.

However, most of us as parents don’t really have a specific plan for transitioning from doing everything for our toddlers to having teenagers doing most things for themselves. In fact, many of the things we do as well-meaning, loving parents actually discourage the achievement of this milestone. Do you know anyone who would rather pay for everything and do all the chores themselves if they had an option to have free rent, a full-time cook, maid, and chauffeur?

Boystown, a one hundred-year-old residential home for struggling kids, encourages parents, “Teens also want to be treated like adults. Parents can do this, first by teaching their teens they are responsible for the consequences of their choices, and second by holding them accountable for these choices.” If we want our teens to be motivated to achieve their own success, we have to transfer responsibility to them for “adulting.”  This seems easy enough, but if we check our own homes, we might find that we are unintentionally holding our students back by doing too many things for them. Now is the time to lovingly step back and allow our teens to assume responsibility for things they could be doing for themselves.

Ironically, what we do out of necessity when our children are little, becomes a habit as they grow older.  How do we decide when it is time for them to take on more responsibility?  Just as we are amazed at our toddler’s ability to drink out of a regular cup at a restaurant when we have forgotten their sippy-cup, we are also amazed when our sloppily dressed son gets a girlfriend and emerges from the laundry room with his shirt and khakis miraculously ironed. YouTube plus a little motivation is an amazing thing.  If he was able to iron today, could he have ironed yesterday, or perhaps a year ago? Probably.

So the way to tell if your teen is ready for a task is not to wait until he is magically able to assume it on his own, but to start handing off responsibilities and let him learn under your supervision. With this method, he will have the chance to make a few mistakes along the way and recover in a nurturing environment.

Here are five things you might be doing for your son or daughter that they can probably do for themselves

  1. Saving them from their “I forgot”s
  2. Making sure they are on time
  3. Doing their laundry
  4. Working out their transportation
  5. Making their lunch

If you decide to transition any of these tasks to your teen, there are three simple steps to follow.

One is to have a conversation about why you feel this is a job they can handle, and that you are no longer going to do this for them.

Two is to role-play or teach her the skill and make sure she understands. She should also know that she can come ask you questions if she needs help.

Three is to just let it go and not take over when he doesn’t do it perfectly. Here’s to growing those teenagers into successful adults!


Sam:  Mom, are you home?

1 minute passes

Sam:  MOM??  MOM??

Mom:  Yes, I’m home.

Sam: Whew.  I need you to bring me the paper I left on the printer in Dad’s office.

Mom:  You can just take it tomorrow. 

Sam:  It is due TODAY

Mom:  OK, I’ll drop it by the office on my way to the gym.

Sam:  No.  You have to bring it so I can get it by 3rd period and turn it in.  And you can’t take it to the office because that isn’t allowed.  Leave it in an envelope by the bushes by the tennis courts and I’ll come grab it.

Mom:  Just turn it in late.

Sam:  But this is 30% of my grade.  It affects my college apps.  PLEEEEASE?

Mom:  OK


How can we not save our kids from seemingly life-derailing mistakes? College admission seems to hinge on every grade. Any mark on a high-schooler’s disciplinary record feels like the anvil above Wil E. Coyote’s head just waiting to drop and ruin everything. As parents, we react to these circumstances with urgency and resolve, with love and our child’s best interest at heart. But what really is in their best interest?

If our goal is to transition our students into responsible adulthood, we may have to stop doing things that enable irresponsibility. If we were to look back at our parents’ generation, we would be hard-pressed to find a parent heading to school mid-day for anything other than to take a student to the emergency room.

I don’t remember my mom or dad ever coming to school except for a play or performance. Today it seems commonplace for parents to pop by the school for all sorts of things, including “saving” their student from having forgotten something at home. A project, lunch, notebook, gym or sports uniform, the list is exhausting. In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, author Wendy Mogel makes a point of listing things that kids learn when they forget their lunch at school. Not only does that child learn a meaningful lesson about responsibility, their classmates have the opportunity to learn to share and feel compassion for a friend. We unintentionally steal these opportunities when we “save” our students from the natural consequences of their mistakes.

In order for us to stop rescuing our teens from their “I forgot” habits, we first have to decide that we are going to turn responsibility over to them. Sounds simple, but we have to commit to it wholeheartedly.

Second, we need to inform them of this in a kind but firm way. Whether that is a discussion in the car, a family meeting, or in a written contract that both parent and student sign, we need to be sure our intentions are clear. Even if the intentions are clear, there is a strong chance your teen will claim, “You didn’t tell me you weren’t going to ever bring me anything I forgot.” Or “I know you said that you weren’t going to save me from forgetting anymore, but I didn’t think you were serious.”

Third, we have to just not do it. When a simple trip over to school would “fix everything,” it takes all our willpower not to jump in the car and go. It is akin to exercise, the first workout is the most painful. Keep going and the pain becomes less and less each time—for both you and your teen. Eventually you are not phased by the requests for rescue. They come less and less frequently until they disappear almost entirely, and in their place you find a teen who takes responsibility for their own actions. Goal achieved.