Are You a Teaching Parent or a Taking Parent?


allowing children to fail

We had just arrived at the ball fields and dropped off my 10-year-old son. As we parked and began to unload chairs, he came running back to the van, close to tears, saying, “I forgot my hat! I’m not allowed to play without it!” Every game after that, guess who packed the baseball bag. Yep, me.

I knew he needed to learn responsibility, but sometimes allowing children to fail is scary because the consequences feel too big for them to handle. If you worry that you might be doing too much for your kids, or you are just plain exhausted, ask yourself: Am I a “Teaching Parent” or a “Taking Parent?” Here’s the difference.

The Teaching Parent

If you’re a teaching parent, you show your children how to do things and let them try by themselves. You watch them struggle through it, even allowing them to fail because you understand this is a marathon, not a sprint. You accept that the job might not be as good as you would do it, but your main goal is their independence, not perfection

The Teaching Parent says, “I can help you make a list of everything you need for school, and it’ll be right here on the fridge.”

The Taking Parent

If you’re this kind of parent, you take the job and do it yourself because it is easier and faster, or because you want it done right. Sometimes you take it because failing doesn’t seem like an option. Failing is embarrassing, painful, and comes with consequences.

The Taking Parent takes the school bag, empties all the folders, puts the homework in the right place, and calls out, “Your backpack is ready!”

I naturally lean toward the Taking Parent without even realizing it. I do teach my kids certain skills, but most of the time, I’m taking things because I want quick success in the moment.

But long-term independence is so much better than short-term success. So if you are with me—if you want to become a Teaching Parent with your eyes on the long-term goal—here are 3 things we must be ready for.

1. Resistance and Struggle

Sometimes, kids are eager to learn. But other times, they are very content with you doing it for them. I mean, why would I want to learn to do my own laundry if someone else has been doing it for me? So expect resistance at first. Also expect some struggle as the learning process unfolds. It’s going to be hard. Remember: That’s good! As our kids struggle, they get stronger and smarter.

2. Teaching and Re-teaching

The first time you teach your children how to fold socks, it’s kind-of fun. The tenth time? Not so much. But have faith—they may need more examples. Watch them do it to see where they are getting stuck or ask your husband to show them in a different way. They may also be testing you to see if you’re really giving this task over or not. Stay the course and resist the urge to jump in and fix things

3. Praise and Celebration!

Get ready to praise, praise, praise! Celebrate even the effort of trying and failing. Celebrate your children getting it partially right. Be gracious if the job is not perfect. Let those little crumbs just exist there on the freshly-Windexed table. And when your children improve, celebrate again. Tell them how proud you are that they are growing up in this way.

How do you encourage your children to be more independent?

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