As parents, we naturally want to shield our children from experiencing pain. We hope that they will do nothing they regret in their lives and never suffer the negative consequences of their actions. We might feel tempted to step in often to stop our kids from making mistakes. By intervening, we believe we are being good parents, protecting our kids from failure and regret. However, we might need to try a new strategy that involves stepping back as our kids learn from their own mistakes.
Partnering With Your Kids Through Their Mistakes
Sometimes, kids might want to make significant changes in their lives before they are ready. However, our kids do not realize that they might be making a mistake or are in over their heads. For example, a teenager might want more independence and informs us that they are moving out next month. While our knee-jerk reaction might be to say, “What? You’re not doing that!”, we can partner with our kids by becoming their allies in the process, even if their goals are unrealistic.
Continuing the example above, we might want to hold back on our initial reaction and say, “Okay, if that’s what you want to do, let’s figure out how to do this.” Then, start asking questions related to successfully achieving the intended goal. If our child wants to move out, we can ask things like:
- “Where do you want to live?”
- “How much is the rent in that area?”
- “How much do utilities cost?”
- “What is your current income, and how much will you have left after living expenses?”
Rather than lecturing and saying “no,” we now partner with our kids to show instead of telling. Instead of stepping back from the situation, where our kids might try to follow through without our guidance, we can support them and just go along. How far will they go? We don’t know; however, they will likely realize that they are not ready for these kinds of changes along the planning stages.
“Go That Way” Strategy
Aaron Huey of Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center refers to this strategy as “Go That Way” during a post on the Facebook group “Parenting Teens That Struggle.” Parents might believe that this strategy will lead to their child making mistakes or that this permits them to mess up their lives. However, the “go that way” strategy allows parents to take a break from teaching their kids through lectures, screaming matches, or arguments. Sometimes, we need to step back and let the world teach our kids in ways that we cannot.
Sometimes, we have the foresight to realize, “this won’t work,” when our kids have lofty, unrealistic plans. We can let our kids learn from their mistakes, which will prepare them for the real world in ways that lectures or “I told you so!” will not. Even if we tell our kids flat-out “no” to their wants, they might persist without us. Remember that what we resist will persist. Their wants and desires do not go away because we said, “no.”
When Should We Step In?
The “Go That Way” strategy might not apply to every blunder that a child makes. When they are considering future plans that will lead to imminent danger, as in life and limb situations, we need to intervene and step in. These situations should be readily apparent to us. If we notice signs that our child is planning to run away from home without our knowledge or experience suicidal ideation, we cannot employ this strategy. The “Go That Way” strategy works best for situations where our children may struggle with comfort but not risk their lives.
Some common situations where kids might want more independence:
- Living on their own
- Moving in with a romantic partner
- Buying a vehicle
- Reducing or taking a break from psychiatric medications
- Choosing an expensive college after graduation with no financial aid
- Quitting high school to get a job
Scenarios like these might seem serious to us as parents, as we worry about our child’s future and happiness. However, we might need to step back and guide them through the process. Even if we disagree, we can just go with their plan, guide them through the process, and let them come to their own conclusions. Often, kids will realize that they are making a mistake and will change their minds once confronted with the reality of things like paying for car insurance or missing out on their free time to work to pay living expenses.
When our kids want to make giant leaps in their lives before they are ready, we might want to intervene and put the idea to rest before they make a mistake. However, what we resist can persist. Our kids might ignore our lectures, suggestions, or our insistence. They might bypass our guidance and go their own way—which could put them at greater risk of failure or significant consequences. We might want to step back and employ the “Go That Way” strategy, ally ourselves with our kids, and show them the costs versus benefits of their plans. Of course, we might need to intervene when our kids are risking their immediate life and limb. Teens who struggle with addiction, depression, promiscuity, cutting, excessive gaming, and other issues can benefit from treatment. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center of Estes Park, Colorado, is here for you and your kids. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.