Full disclosure. I am pretty sure I feel physical pain when my child is hurting. Sometimes the hardest part of parenting is watching your child get hurt – physically, mentally, emotionally and especially spiritually. Your natural instinct is to rush in and do whatever you can to immediately stop the pain your child is feeling. Unfortunately, that is not what is always best for your child.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for your children is to allow them to feel the pain of consequences from making poor or ungodly choices. Some children will learn the lessons God has asked you to teach them, not from your godly instruction but by experiencing the pain that comes with disobedience. As a parent it can feel as if your heart is being ripped out, but there are some tricks to convincing yourself it is best to allow your child to stumble and even fall this time.
- It’s okay to teach your child how to avoid being hurt – sometimes. It’s a smart parent who teaches her children not to touch a hot stove or to obey God’s commands. Be careful though. You can teach your children to guard themselves so carefully from something bad that might possibly happen, they will never leave their beds. Measured risk is good for your children. Careless, defiant, rebellious risk is not.
- Teach your children how to measure risk accurately. Let’s face it. If your child looks both ways before crossing the street, most times he will make it across safely. Any sort of travel, mission or service work has some built in risk. The benefits from participating in those activities is so high and the risk manageable enough that the risk is worth taking. On the other hand, many people become addicts the first time they try certain drugs. No potential “high” is worth that kind of risk. Rejecting God is another risk with eternal consequences way too high to take. Teach your children how to count the potential costs of a decision before they make it.
- Sometimes you have to allow your children to fail in order for them to learn a vital lesson. Elementary school was too easy for our daughter and she was developing some very poor study skills. When she finally had a unit with material new to her, my husband and I decided to allow her to have her way and not study for the test. We reasoned even an “F” in second grade would not damage her forever and would teach her a valuable lesson about taking the time to prepare properly.
- Sometimes even your best efforts to allow your child to fail will themselves fail. We had an epic fail in the example above. Proud of ourselves for biting our tongues, we allowed her to skip off to school. When asked how the test was, she replied she had gotten an “A”. Confused, we asked how that was possible. “Oh, the teacher let us review five minutes before the test, so I was fine.”
- Sometimes for your child to learn a needed lesson, you will have to make personal sacrifices. Any parent who has grounded a child or taken away a favorite thing, totally understands this concept. In our desire for our daughter to learn good study and work habits, we finally had to homeschool her. This required a lot of extra time and effort on my part for seven years, but in the end it was worth every minute.
- When your child does stumble or fail, teach her how to dust herself off and keep going. The lesson is not always in the stumble or the failing, but in learning that making mistakes is not necessarily fatal. Your children need to learn God can help them get back on track with Him. They need to learn they can mourn a mistake or failure, then dry their tears and start over again. They need to learn how to analyze what happened, decide what they needed to learn from the experience and put it into practice. Those lessons are more powerful in many ways than learning bad choices cause pain and consequences.
- Teach your child how to turn to the Bible for lessons on how to avoid stumbling and falling and for how to recover when you do. Your children need to understand no sin is too big for God to forgive. They need to know how to repent and make their relationship right with God. Of course, the best case scenario is that they also learn how to avoid a lot of the sins in life and the consequences they cause.
No one likes to see their children in pain. Letting your children stumble and fail on occasion can make them stronger people and even more importantly, stronger Christians. So the next time you are tempted to intervene – count the cost for your intervention. You may decide it really is in the best interest of your child to let him take a minor tumble or two.