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How do you allow a child the freedom to fail and make mistakes while ensuring that they are learning from it. Just because a child refuses to conform does not make him/her a loser/problem/etc. Just because they are doing well now does not mean they will be like that for ever. You will never know when some one could blossom into a butterfly or have a humbling fall from grace. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but I also don’t want to be reckless and harm my child’s life and/or wash my hands of what is definitely my responsibility.

Example 1: Suppose they are hanging out with the wrong crowd. Maybe this will teach them a good lesson in life because you never know when someone will come across a character who may have malicious intentions. Learning to deal with such people should be part of life. At the same time, I don’t want my kid to turn into a criminal, getting sucked into something into/witness acts of criminality. I want my kid to know when to draw the line and I would encourage them to have diverse friends from diverse backgrounds.

Example 2: Just because a child does not do well in studies does not mean they can't succeed (in the eyes of the society) at a later point in time. But I don’t want to ignore not doing well in studies because that might be a sign of delinquency and/or lead to criminal behavior. ( I am not saying that there are no educated criminals .. but you should get the idea).

My questions are : Is there a good heuristic/rule of thumb I can use to ensure that my child is not becoming a delinquent/threat to society and maybe lean on being somewhat productive in the eyes of society? I don’t mean that as an act of external validation, but we are social creatures and people's opinion of you matters to a certain degree.

How can I ensure that my love/affection for the child is not letting me see the reality of what they are becoming in case it is something problematic?

Preferably I would want to train my child (because that is my job) to be a self educated person who can handle the stress and surprises life has to offer and that means learning to deal with both success and failure, learning to deal with happiness and sadness.

I would prefer some scientific literature or books/resources based on such literature that doesn't put meaning into every single act/incident and/or overly blames/praises either the child/parent for what they have/will become.

There is only so much you can do after all right?

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I recommend the author Ron Taffel - he has written a number of great books. The premise of his teaching is that it is your job as a parent to maintain an envelope for your child that is just a bit larger than his life. As he grows, he will bump up against the edges of the envelope, and you will gradually enlarge it, giving room to explore while keeping decision-making at an appropriate level. –  MJ6 Jun 10 at 15:50
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1 Answer 1

Generally, you get good judgment from experience, and you get experience from bad judgment. So you want to let your child make lots of small decisions, and see the consequences of them.

  • don't feel like doing that homework? The school may impose a consequence on you, such as staying in at recess to do it. I am not going to step in to prevent that consequence.
  • stayed up really late video gaming? You are going to be very tired at 6am tomorrow. I am going to get you up anyway. And if I can't get you up, you are going to miss that event you wanted to go to. Or if it's school, you're going to get whatever the consequences are for an unexcused absence.
  • ate all your Halloween candy in one binge, and now you have none while your friends still have some? Both your stomachache and your jealousy of the friends' stashes come from the same decision.

Now, because I'm not a cruel person, I warn kids about the consequences that might come with some of their decisions. But if they make the decision anyway, I don't shelter them. This works great as long as the consequences are:

  • pretty much immediate. The next day, perhaps the next week, no longer
  • small enough that they cause no permanent damage
  • easily connected directly to the decision (which is more likely if the possible consequences of the decision were discussed when it was made)

So we're heading out somewhere and you don't want to wear your coat? That's cool. (Or even downright cold, perhaps.) When you feel cold and you regret not having the coat, we'll talk about predicting what will happen when you make certain choices. Then we'll go home early, because you're cold, or maybe I made you bring your coat even though I didn't make you wear it and you can learn from that too.

When it comes to hanging around with a bad crowd and that sort of thing, the consequences are nebulous and don't start to kick in for a long time. That makes them very hard to learn from. And some of them (getting arrested or convicted, getting shot in a gang war, becoming addicted to controlled substances) will very definitely cause permanent damages.

So ideally your child would have had lots of lots of opportunities to make good decisions long before the "bad crowd" problem started. And some bad ones too, to learn from. About all you can do once you find yourself in this situation is give them more and more opportunities to gain that good judgment you want them to learn. And keep on closing the loop for them: when you get that grumpy complaining at 6am about how tired they are, you want to remind them that this was discussed last night. (Both I-told-you-so and mocking humor are wrong here, but something gentle like "I know. I was worried you would feel like this in the morning. It's unpleasant, I know" gets it across. You might even add "I hope you remember this feeling when you're deciding whether or not to keep playing, some other night."

Also, for a child over about 12, you can discuss their friends' problems a little bit. Not in a way that invites them to break confidences, of course. But kids tell you that X was suspended or B has broken up with D or Z was in a fight or Y is butting heads with the coach and was benched or even that A was arrested. You can talk about the circumstances that led up to it. You can play "what could have been done earlier" with those circumstances. I used to tell my kids all the time "the only thing better than learning from your mistakes is learning from somebody else's" and it's true. You can do this as young as 4 but you run the risk the child will share the lesson with the friend in a way that makes them feel bad ("my mum says it's your own fault you can't be in the play because you are the one who forgets your gym shoes all the time") so wait until your child has learned some discretion.

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thank you for a wonderful answer, i cant unfortunately upvote it. –  qwrty Jun 10 at 5:05
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This is a great answer. I'd add "Give them as much freedom as possible as early and often as you can. If they are at a friend's birthday party being supervised by the friend's parents, leave them there alone. Same for soccer practice, music lessons, etc. Places where they are safe but out of your direct control are places where they can learn to exercise judgement on their own." –  Marc Jul 10 at 16:28
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