It’s OK to lose: Why good parents let their kids fail

Protecting children from failing or being disappointed will cost them later in life, warns child psychologist Dr Fiona Martin.

With mental health issues like anxiety and depression among the top health concerns for young people, building resilience – the ability to bounce back from negative situations – is increasingly important.

“A fear-driven society, the pressure on parents, and unrealistic expectations on children to behave like ‘little adults’ and achieve and do everything, contributes to this need for parents to over protect their kids,” says child psychologist Dr Fiona Martin.

Dr Martin says while well-intentioned, the “everyone gets a prize” mentality that aims to stop children being disappointed means they seldom experience disappointment.

“I often pinpoint the moment that the rules to ‘pass-the-parcel’ changed as being a huge turning point in the wrong direction to overprotecting kids from setbacks,” she says.

building child resilience

Kids need freedom to explore – and to get hurt

“We’re less inclined to allow kids to explore and navigate their world without close supervision because they might physically or emotionally injure themselves or make the wrong decision,” says Dr Martin.

While this might come from a place of love, it’s doing more harm than good, she says.

“Learning what it feels like to lose or not get what you want is a part of becoming emotionally competent,” she says.

“It’s important to validate those negative emotions and also encourage ways to soothe them.”

How to help kids build resilience

Dr Martin says supporting kids through setbacks, moments of challenge and disappointments can actually help protect them from developing mental health problems.

“Often there’s a genetic pre-disposition (towards resilience) but the environment most definitely plays a role,” she says.

“We can learn to become resilient. In fact, the research suggests that when it comes to resilience, nurture trumps nature.”

The psychologist says that parents can promote resilience by creating a healthy emotional climate at home. Focus on:

  • Developing a healthy bond and build “emotional connectivity” with your child.
  • Setting boundaries and behavioural expectations.
  • Establishing “realistic expectations” around achievement.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show  to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.