Dec 7, 2009, 15:20

By Rose Mulligan

As we move deeper into the busy school year and your child is feeling the effects of class work, homework, activities, regular exams, and social shifts, there is one important thing to remember: Mixed within their excitement and successes, they will inevitably experience struggles and trials.

What should a parent do? And what should parent not do?

"Every child has learning curves - and that's a good thing," says Malcolm Gauld, parenting expert and president of Hyde Schools who, along with his wife Laura, authored the book The Biggest Job We'll Ever Have. "Children sometimes need to learn through a series of challenges, trials and errors. But it can be difficult for a parent to both help their kids and still allow them to challenge their minds."

"Parents have to find a balance," says Laura Gauld. "They have to discern when it is appropriate to take hold of a child's difficulty - and when to let go, to step back and allow their child to struggle."

Today's parents have a hard time letting their children work hard on a taxing or difficult subject and allowing their child to even fail occasionally. The emphasis on success, aptitude and test scores is simply enormous and parents - as well as students - feel pressured that their kids make the grade.

"The focus on success is deeply ingrained in our culture," says Laura Gauld. "As a result, parents tend to want to protect their children from failure, pain and challenge."

"Success is important," adds Malcolm. "But failure can teach powerful lifelong lessons that lead to success as well as profound personal growth."

While failure may not be an intended goal for anyone, it ought to be a fairly regular outcome for everyone, especially for kids. While most of us give lip service to the notion that we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes, few of our homes and even fewer of our schools are actually structured to emulate this truth. Far too many kids are encouraged to avoid any circumstances where failure might result - leading, for example, to the cheating epidemic in our schools.

What are some simple things parents can do to avoid stepping in and trying to fix or solve everything for their children - thus robbing them of the opportunity to learn for themselves?

  1. Wait for your child to ask for help; OR

  2. When you see your child is struggling with something (whether it is something they tell you about or something you witness) acknowledge the struggle with the child in a non-judgmental way. For example, say, "I can tell you're really struggling with this. Let me know if I can help." And then walk away.

  3. If your child asks for help, don't provide the answers; try not to do the thinking, drawing, calculating or interpreting for them. Instead, ask more questions, provide examples; keep them focused; keep it simple.

  4. Encourage your child, especially teens, to seek help, advice, and guidance from a respected family member or friend. Adults outside the family can offer objective perspective and support that teens often would not accept from a parent.

  5. If your child's situation seems to be getting worse or is beyond what you feel anyone in the home can manage alone, seek help from a professional. There are many resources for kids today, including counseling - both educational and psychological - which can offer your child options of which you may be unaware, such as learning creative strategies for coping with stress or other school choices available.

In order for parents to understand their own preoccupation with success, including avoidance of failure, it is beneficial for them to go back to their own families of origin to identify how those things were perceived and/or handled while growing up. Chances are, the way they handle situations with their own children is connected in one of two ways:

They either approach success and failure in contrary reaction to how their own parents approached them; or they adopt the same approach their own parents took, sometimes even when the approach is not effective.

Parents who can be honest with themselves about their experiences with success and failure in their childhoods can often learn the skill of how to overcome the impulse to step in and prevent struggle for their children, while also maintaining a supportive and guiding presence in their child's life.

Parents can ask themselves the following:

  • What were some of the important successes in my childhood?

  • How were success and failure handled in my childhood?

  • How do I feel about these experiences today?

  • How do I feel about my child's successes?

  • How do I really handle my child's struggles/failures?

  • Have I ever tried to manipulate the outcome of my child's potential failures?

  • Do I allow my children to see me fail at anything? If so, how do I handle that failure in front of them?

  • Most important, how do I step back and allow my child to struggle through challenges?

About this article: For more information about Malcolm and Laura Gauld, their work and Hyde Schools, contact Rose Mulligan at (207) 837-9441, by email at, or visit online at

© Copyright 2012 by Woodbury Reports, Inc.