Learning to fail

“If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business.” I have been thinking about this statement I read in a nytimes article about raising successful children. Letting your child fail is how they learn.

This is much easier said than done…at least for me.

But I’m trying.

Kalden likes to ride without hands on the handlebars. It’s pretty impressive for a seven year old but at times, most times, he is merely showing off..showboating. Today he crashed hard on the pavement. He was fine and oh so embarrassed. We have been waiting for this day, it was bound to happen.  He needed to experience this to learn that riding with no hands can have consequences. Is this bad parenting? Should we have scolded him every time he took his hands off the bars?  What if the fall was more serious? All valid questions and I realize some parents would forbid this behavior. We took the approach of warning him and then stepping back.

Then there was last week at mountain bike camp. After his first day he came back without either pair of shoes and without his riding clothes. All I could think was how could he come back barefoot and not even think about looking for his shoes? But I didn’t yell at him or ask how he could do such a thing. I didn’t search the camp van or drive back to camp to look for them. Inside I really wanted to do all these things. But the look on his face said everything, he was devastated that he lost his brand new clip pedal shoes and unhappy with the realization that if he didn’t find them the next day he would have to go back to his platform pedals for a long time. I let it sit in his brain overnight. No sense in adding guilt, shame or solving the problem for him too quickly. The next day he found the clothes and shoes.

And then there is the little one, Axel. He’s taking off on his Strider bike at 17 months. And I don’t mean he’s pushing it around, that was 2 months ago. He is full on running with it and then lifting his feet as he flies downhill.  Thinking a baby full face helmet may be required before I let this one fail on the Strider while riding downhill. But I don’t jump up to help when he is screaming because he can’t turn the bike around an obstacle.

Is it working? I think so. Kalden went 4 more days at camp without leaving a single item. I don’t think he’ll give up riding no hands but will probably think about it a little more. Axel still gets mad when he can’t quickly maneuver the bike but he figures it out within 30 seconds without giving up. Hopefully these values will stick with them as they grow older.

Maybe one day when they are riding in a big race and they crash they will know that it’s not the end. They can get up and finish the ride, or not. It is their decision and their decision only.


  1. Great post Jen! You are more wise than me.

  2. Great post. Well said!


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