Learning to let my kids make mistakes

A child sat on a beach.

Parenting’s never easy, is it? This week, for example, I consciously let one of my kids make a mistake, knowing it would probably upset him. It did, of course, and I feel awful.

We took the boys out to spend their first few weeks of pocket money at the weekend. It was theirs to do with as they wished, but I’m happy they chose to save up. One of the reasons we introduced it was to teach them about making choices and there was an early lesson for one of them.

The seven-year-old had his heart set on a Disney Infinity figure. He found the one he wanted and bought it with minimum fuss. The six-year-old, however, was clearly more motivated by the act of spending than thinking about what he really wanted.

He didn’t set out to buy anything in particular, but it was evident that the money was burning a hole in his pocket.¬†Eventually, he chose to buy a LEGO minifigure.

I love LEGO but I’m not the biggest fan of these as they’re something of a lottery. They come in foil packets so, unless there are particularly distinctively-shaped pieces, there’s no way of knowing which one you’ll get.

I reminded him of this but told him that it was still his choice. He went ahead and bought one and, you’ve guessed it, wasn’t very happy when he opened it. There was a bad and immediate case of buyer’s remorse but, although it really saddened me to see him upset, I’m kind of pleased.

That is to say that I’m happy that he has made this mistake very early on and, hopefully, has learned from it. Part of me wanted to buy him another one to cheer him up. It seemed unfair that the thing he had bought with money he had earned was such a disappointment.

But he wouldn’t have learned the right lesson from me being a soft touch, so I was sympathetic but firm. He had to accept that his decision was the wrong one and move on from it.

Thinking about it,¬†there’s a similar story when helping with homework. Having seen some of the remarkable projects that kids take into school, it quickly became obvious to me that their parents had played no small part.

At first, we did likewise – which was probably what everyone else was doing! – but we soon changed our approach. Handing in flawless written work and submitting online maths tests with scores of 100% every time wasn’t helping anyone.

We provide a little assistance, of course, but no longer guide them through each step. Again, I find this at odds with how I usually approach things. With a pre-blogging background in writing and editing, spelling mistakes and grammar errors are my natural enemies. But we let them go now.

Letting your kids make mistakes can feel unnatural, but I think it’s so important to allow them to do so. Even though I still feel like a bit of a meanie at the moment, I’m confident I’ve done the right thing.

It’s been a learning experience for both of us.


  1. Dan

    Great post, I don’t mind letting my boy make his own mistakes, all part of growing up and a big part of Parenting.

  2. Pingback: Forgotten school items and responsibility: my take - Diary of the Dad

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