When to Let Kids “Fail”
with the Behavior Revolution
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The Behavior Revolution
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Penny Williams 0:03
If they were able to just do it, they would. They would. Why do we not accept that? It's crazy. If they were able, they would just do it. They don't enjoy struggling, they don't enjoy being different. They don't enjoy getting in trouble at home and getting scolded at school. This is not a choice. Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Hello, parents and educators. Welcome back to the beautifully complex podcast, I am joined by my friend and colleague, Sarah Wayland. And we are doing another episode for this month on behavior coming to you as the behavior revolution. And in this episode, we are answering a question from Jen in Wisconsin, which is how do I know when to let my kid fail? And this is a complex and tough question. And so we're going to spend a whole episode answering it, Sarah, if you want to say hello. I think everybody knows you by now.
Sarah Wayland 1:33
I hope so.
Penny Williams 1:34
We're both parent coaches for neurodiverse families, and we're cofounders of the behavior revolution, and just trying to change the narrative on behavior to look at it through that brain base lens. And honoring our diversity and, and addressing it with compassion. So when to let kids fail? This is such a hard question. And I think people sit firmly on both sides of the fence. And Sarah and I sort of sent in between, firmly in between.
We're on the fence, we're on the fence, you are right, when you're on the fence about failing for many reasons, and we'll talk about those. But I want to maybe start with like a scenario that I think a lot of families struggle with. And this is probably the most often time that that idea comes into a parent's head. When do I just sort of wash my hands of it and let my kid do it on their own? And if they fail, they fail. I think it's around school most of the time. Yeah, because school is so hard for our kids. And it requires so much executive functioning, which most of our kids struggle immensely with. And so without any guidance and support, the most of our neurodivergent kids aren't going to succeed at school, there are some who have great executive functioning. And they'll do okay with not having a parent micromanage their schoolwork, right. But there are many who just can't do it on their own. And I think that we step in, and we really want to help. And sometimes we give too much help. And so our kids are like, Oh, I don't really have to try it this right there. Right. And that's the place where then we're like, oh my gosh, I just let them fail. Because now they're not even trying. Does that make sense to you, Sarah? I mean, I've been there a million times my own kid.
Sarah Wayland 3:34
Oh, for sure. I mean, and especially when they don't want your help, right? Like, they're tired of you constantly criticizing them and constantly being on their case about something that like, just leave me alone? Well, what does just leave me alone? Mean? It might mean, you know, leave me alone. Well, probably always means that Yeah. But I think that sometimes it means I can't think about this, because I failed at it so many times before that. I'm just done thinking about it. I just don't have any hope. Sometimes it means I don't know why you care about this. None of my friends seem to care about it. Their parents aren't doing anything. So why are you always badgering me about it? Right? You know, so there's hopeless, there's you don't understand. There's just so many different reasons why kids can tell you they don't want your help. And then there's also, you know, just this question of letting them figure it out because it's their brain they have to work with.
Penny Williams 4:38
Yeah. And that's really one of the positives of stepping back. I don't even like to use the term letting them fail, because there's all sorts of ugliness that comes with that, but there are benefits to stepping back. Because then they will see what they need to do to succeed on their own. own, maybe. But it still has to be scaffolded support. Like, I'm not saying step back all the way I'm saying tiny little baby steps have a little more challenge in the area of managing for themselves. I think the other reason kids don't want our help is they don't want to admit that there's differences and that they're having a hard time while their peers appear not to be for sure. And for sure, they want to be as capable as how they view their peers, which sometimes is not a realistic view.
And no, that's why I was very careful about how I just learned. Because, you know, a lot of kids struggle with one thing or another, but I think they see the other kids like, doing the work getting it turned in getting it done faster than they are maybe. And those are the kinds of things that they compare themselves to, and then they, you know, start to form a narrative about themselves, when they don't measure up. So there is benefit to supporting them for sure. Because then they're capable of succeeding. And this is where I get really hung up about letting kids fail, is that if we just step back and say, Okay, you want to drive the bus, you're driving the bus, I'm done. And they can't succeed, no matter what they do, and how hard they try, then we have just killed their confidence, and made them feel helpless and hopeless. Kids have to succeed in some areas, in some ways in order to be willing to try period, human beings, right. I mean, me too.
Sarah Wayland 6:47
Yeah. I mean, I like your metaphor of driving the bus, right? Because we wouldn't just take a 10 year old, and put them in the driver's seat of a bus and say, okay, drive the bus. Right, like we do driver's education. And, you know, first you learn to drive a car, and then you have to get trained, you know, and there's all this teaching that goes along with it. And then there's, you know, supervised experience and things like that. And that metaphor, holds for executive functioning as well. And, you know, our kids do need support, whether they want your support or not, is a different message, or a different question, right? Especially older kids, I think sometimes really don't want their parents input. I know with my older son, the executive functioning issues in high school, he knew he needed help. A very unattractive side of me came out when I tried to help him, which was the tiger mother side of me, and he did not appreciate it. And I didn't really like myself when I was doing that either. And so we ended up hiring an executive functioning coach for him. And that was really helpful for him. And she knew how to scaffold it. And she wasn't mom, who was sitting over there quietly, freaking out about everything. So, you know, there are ways to back off your support that don't mean, just, you know, dropping them in the deep end of the pool.
Penny Williams 8:15
Little incremental steps. And I think that's what we really talk about when we use the term scaffolding is that we may put up a whole bunch of scaffolding. And slowly but surely, as sort of the job is done in the metaphor, you pull a layer of it back, you take down a layer of the scaffolding. And that is the way that we can support without sort of enabling. And we have talked about enabling here on the podcast before, I'll link up that episode. But it's really important that we find that middle ground there, that we're not enabling, but we're not really backing off and letting kids fail. Honestly, in my mind, I can't think of a scenario where I would just completely and utterly step back and let my kid fail. Because I know that my kid can't handle that yet. Right? And that it will be a very personal and emotional thing. And we also know that when our kids are overwhelmed, and they're having big emotions, they're getting dysregulated. And now their thinking brain is offline, and they're even less able to get things done. Right. There's all these snowball effects all over the place with raising or educating neurodivergent kids.
Sarah Wayland 9:42
For sure, so for me, it's like a process of, you know, you peel back the support a little bit and see how it goes. And if it isn't going well then add some back in and then see how that goes. And if it's still not going well. We'll add a little more back in. So you're constantly looking for whether it's working or not. But you know, something that I think happens a lot. And I'm glad you gave the example of school for this, because something that happens a lot is that school teams will say something like, they're doing so well. So let's take the accommodation away. Right. And I hear that all the time. And then they take the accommodation away, the kid crashes and burns. And instead of the team saying, oops, I guess they needed that support. Maybe we need to pull it back a little more slowly, or, you know, still provide some support, but not as much or whatever. Instead, they start blaming the kid. Yeah. Well, if you were just serious about your schoolwork, you would do this, which is like, what got them into the need for getting the accommodations in the first place.
Penny Williams 10:54
If they were able to just do it, they would they would write, they would, why do we not accept that? It's crazy. If they were able, they would just do it. They don't enjoy struggling, they don't enjoy being different. They don't enjoy getting in trouble at home and getting scolded at school. Right. This is not a choice here.
Sarah Wayland 11:20
Here's one that's happening to a client of mine right now. She gets called sped all the time. Right? I mean, oh my gosh, the way teens treat each other is so ridiculous. Yes, I mean, the words they use, there is no political correctness whatsoever. They'll call the other kids things like sped they'll say things like, Oh, you're so autistic, or Oh, you're so ADHD, and they're not meaning it in a complimentary way at all. No. And now, they'll say you're retarded, they say all sorts of hurtful things. And so that makes your kid want to hide even more. Right? They don't want anyone knowing that, you know, they might belong to one of those categories, because then their peers are going to say things that may be true, but not in a flattering, like, oh, that's how your brain works. That's so cool. Let's, you know, let's figure out how to support you where it's hard and celebrate you where you shine. You know, that's not how have kids use it?
Penny Williams 12:20
Yeah, and for those who don't know, sped is special indication. In my era of schooling, kids would call kids and special education short bus or something like that. Yeah, no, yeah. I mean, it's gone on since the start of time, I'm sure. But it's something that our kids are having to deal with. And so they don't want to call any more attention to their differences, because that's often the outcome, unfortunately. And they don't get protected enough at school, in my opinion. But I also recognize that there's, you know, in a typical American High School, a couple 1000 kids at least, yeah, and only a handful, more than a handful, a bucket full of teachers and adults. So they're not hearing everything and seeing everything, unfortunately, right is really tough for that. But that's why our kids sort of burrow because they want to protect themselves. And so things like letting them fail, in the truest sense of that phrase, is going to make them stand apart more. It's going to make it harder, in most cases at school, I think. And we just don't need to add to their challenges. But I also think, too, we have to talk about the relationship. How much damage do you do to the relationship with your child, when you say, Okay, I'm done, you go ahead, and we quote, let them fail.
Sarah Wayland 13:43
And the flip side of that Penny, how much damage do we do when we're constantly telling them how broken they are?
Penny Williams 13:51
When you constantly focus on the negative, your child thinks that all there is about them as the negative, right? That's it. That's all they are. I learned that the really hard way, is when my son was first diagnosed, which was ADHD. I just became obsessed or so desperate to help him. But what happened was, we never thought about or spoke about anything but ADHD ever. And that is no way to live for anyone. Right? It brought the whole family down because the energy was just so negative and difficult. And so I'm always really careful about that now, and it's hard because we still have a lot of challenges that we're working on. And some of them are screaming in my face right now. And I just want to say, you know, just get it done. That doesn't work. Because if it didn't work, it would be done. So even we have a hard time. No doubt. Oh my gosh,
Sarah Wayland 14:50
I have such a hard time. I mean, it's so funny because you know, Penny. Our listeners should know that when we first got together before we started the session pennies Like, so where do you stand on this? Because she wasn't sure. And I said, Well, I think where I stand is it's complicated. And after we talked, we're like, yeah, we do agree about this, that it's so complicated. And I think that part of the complexity is knowing. And I think this is what that listener wants to know, like, how do you know when it's okay to step in and help? And how do you know when you should express your faith that they can figure it out? And back off? How do you know,
Penny Williams 15:35
I think the first question is, or the first reminder, maybe, is, if my kid was capable of doing this funny help at all, he or she would be or they wouldn't be? Right? I think you have to start there. And recognize that zero support is likely not going to be better, it's likely going to be worse, unless you're just totally hovering and micromanaging and not listening to your kid at all. And that could sometimes be worse than completely letting go. But we have to remember what we put on our kids. How much of our own stuff do we put on our kids? And there's a lot of it when it comes to school. And part of it, I think is our cultural expectations. Part of it is, you know, what we've been sort of conditioned to believe about success and the role school plays in that. And so we get really caught up, we really think about the future, right? Well, if my third grader can't get his homework turned in, he's not going to graduate, and he's going to live in my basement forever. That's where we go. Yeah. And we have to not do that. And I think a lot of times, that's where that idea of Do I just let my kid fail comes in. It's when we're future casting. It's when we're catastrophizing. When we're desperate. We think, well, maybe that's the answer. Could it be the answer? And I think both of us would say, No, not in the purest sense of the phrase.
Sarah Wayland 17:19
You know, it's hard Penny, there's a couple of things. I was thinking while you were talking. So one was, what happens if the domain is not school? But social interaction? Mm hmm. Right? Mm hmm. And so like, one of the things I struggled with, especially with my older son, was, I could see him doing things that were not his fault at all. But that were very socially off putting to the other kids. And a lot of them were him just trying to cope with his attention issues, or the fact that he couldn't understand what they were saying, you know, and so he would do stuff that looked like he wasn't engaging, when, in fact, he was trying to engage, but his nervous system was making it hard for him. So then I would step in, and I would say, you know, why don't you go take a run around the block, and then come back and see if you know, you can pay attention a little better. Well, guess what, that has social repercussions a that mom is watching you so closely be that you just like run around the block, you know, in the middle of an interaction with a bunch of kids. And he was trying to figure out how to do it. But I kept watching and thinking he's always on the outside. He's always on the outside, and nobody's ever engaging with him. And so then I felt so sad for him and wanted to make it better. But I wasn't making it better. I was making it worse.
Penny Williams 18:44
Yeah. And I see a lot of parents, and this was true for my kids as well, who are really worried about the lack of social interaction outside school. I've seen a lot of parents ask about this, you know, my kid just wants to sit at home over the weekend. The other kids are out doing things, but they don't engage with other kids. Sometimes, that's the best option for them. And they're okay. We decide that that must mean that they're not okay. Kids aren't including them. They're not feeling loved and respected by their peers. It's not necessarily true, couldn't be in you really have to dig deeper and see what's going on there. But if you have an introverted socially anxious kid, then they have spent all of their social fuel at school. Right. Right. And they're not taking it personally, the other kids around over the weekend and they're not Yeah, because they're exhausted or other kids are going to a birthday party because they don't want to do it. They're okay with not doing it. And we have to really understand the kid we have in those situations. If you have a child who really does want to be more social, and they're not being invited are they don't know how to set things up, then supporting that is good. standing back and letting them fail at that is not. But if you have a kid who just needs more quiet alone time, then honoring that is the right thing to do. And you're not giving up and letting them fail, actually, you're just honoring who they are.
Sarah Wayland 20:20
Right. And I think we need to trust our kids on that one. Like, you know, if they say I really just need to be alone right now. Well, let them be alone right now. Right? Yeah. And I think the key for me with the social stuff, is, if the kid is asking for your help, then of course you offer it. But if they're not asking for your help, and they seem okay, not your projected version of okay, but their internal sense of whether they're okay, then let them figure it out on their own. Right. Yeah. And I think that's the hardest part is, what is their internal sense of whether they're okay, and how do you really get it that without, you know, putting your own stuff onto them?
Penny Williams 21:09
A lot of conversations, I think, yeah. And sometimes kids are not going to tell us what's going on internally, they may really want to be out with friends, they might really want to be, you know, over having a playdate, if they're younger. And they're hurt by the fact that they're not part of that. But they don't want to talk about it, because it's painful, it's uncomfortable. And so they're not really letting you and and I think that you just have to really, you know, hear in there try to fit it into conversations naturally and casually. And really watch for signals of what's going on and how they're really feeling about it. And I think you'll see if you're really carefully watching, oftentimes, you'll see little signals, that they're not okay with what's going on. But they're not also opening up to you. It's really tough, you know, teenagers don't want to share with their parents what is going on for them, of course, and yet, we still want to support and help them. And what happens is we end up pushing and nagging and trying to get them to talk. Yeah, and they close up even more. Yeah, my kid is definitely that kid.
And I learned after he told me to say okay, you don't have to talk about it now. But if you want to, I'm here whenever you want. And, you know, just last week, I was struggling to step back again, when he was telling me that I don't want to talk about it right now. I'm such a fixer. And I'm such a, let's either get it over with now. Right? Let's get it done now. Right? It's always now for me, I just want to do and mark it off and get past right, and get on with it. And he doesn't. And sometimes he doesn't want to talk, you know, this particular time. I still don't know what was up a week later, or usually, you know, in a couple hours or maybe a day, he'll come to me and say, Oh, I really would like to talk about this now. I probably push too hard. That time. And that's what happens. Our kids don't talk to us when we push them to talk to us. Right. But I think this is a really key piece of the conversation of letting kids fail, is we really have to understand that kid, and what is going on for them and a lot of areas in order to make the right decision about whether or not we can step back some, and we should never let them fail. That's what I want to say.
Sarah Wayland 23:39
Yeah, but what do you do with a kid? Who is demanding that you back off? And you know, they need help? What do you do with that?
Penny Williams 23:49
That's so hard. Yeah, I think you back off. I think so too. But you keep casually infrequently, because this is not my natural sense. In a frequently check in, in ways that don't necessarily feel like a check in for your kid. That was super complicated. I know. But that's kind of like you and I have older kids. We've learned the dance. Yes, somewhat. We're not always good at it. We still get out of stuff. But we kind of know the dance.
Sarah Wayland 24:21
With our own children. Right. And where they are right now. Because I would say even with knowing what I know, if I were to go back 10 years to when my kids were, you know, 10 and 14, I might not get it right even with what I know now, because kids are constantly changing. And we are constantly changing, but I think it's hard when you're sort of your kid is young and pretty not self aware that it's hard to know. Like what kind of support can you do that doesn't feel disempowering to them. but feels actually supportive. Yeah. And I think it's getting their input. Yeah,
Penny Williams 25:05
I do, too, we often decide, like, I remember every year when my son was younger, going school shopping for supplies, and the teachers put all these things on the list, right. And we learned over time that that stuff wasn't going to work, because he didn't have any planning and organizational skills. So we had to do it differently. But I kept deciding what we should try. So every year, we would try something different until something was somewhat beneficial, somewhat working. But it was always my idea of what to try. It wasn't his idea. It didn't come from him, it didn't have his input. And that's why things always failed. Because our kids have to have buy in. Yeah. And we have to understand what they need. They have a different brain and perspective, what I think is going to help my kid manage his school papers is maybe not at all, what makes sense to him. And so we have to figure that out. You know, this is really where I'm pro screens work comes in, and collaborative problem solving, collaborative and proactive solutions.
Sarah Wayland 26:18
And we don't mean Child Protective Services.
Penny Williams 26:23
No, I never realized that was the same.
Sarah Wayland 26:26
Oh, my God, I think that every time every time,
Penny Williams 26:30
Super unfortunate. So collaborative, and proactive solutions from Dr. Green gives you a framework and a process to have conversations with your kids where you're getting their input to, and you're making decisions together. And I come back also to the idea of a science experiment, which you sort of brought up first, a while back in the conversation, but you know, a lot of kids engage with that sort of experimentation model. And we do have to try things and sort of measure, see where we are? Yeah. Is it working? Is it not working and pivot? And I think that that is one of the most crucial pieces of this parenting, and in educating kids with differences as well, is that we have to say, Okay, we're gonna try this, we're gonna see how it's working. And then we can pivot, we don't give ourselves permission to pivot.
Sarah Wayland 27:29
Yeah, I think that last step of see how it works, right. And what I do with my kids is I always say, Okay, we're going to try this for some period of time. And we're going to come back, like in a week or in two weeks, and reevaluate how it's going, right? And at the reevaluation, we've got data about whether it's working or not, sometimes it only takes a couple of days to realize it's not working, yeah. But you have to get some data. And then when you do you understand better why it's not working. So you can come up with a different solution that might have some, some hope of working.
Penny Williams 28:04
And the key to this process, I think, is having that conversation with your kid ahead of time. Here's what you should expect. I'm going to take your input, and we're going to figure out something together that you think you want to try to help you in this situation. We're going to give it one week, on Sunday, December, blah, blah, we're going to sit down again, and we're going to see how it's going, we're going to have a conversation together about how it's going. And if it's not going well, we're going to come up with another solution to try another strategy. And so they know ahead of time that it can change, that it's not forever. So you know, I'm okay with you managing your homework this week on your own. If you want to give that a go, you give it a go. Here's what it looks like, if it's working. Here's what it looks like. If it's not working on this date, we're going to see if it's working or not. And if it's not, we're going to do something different. I think setting those expectations is super important to that working.
Sarah Wayland 29:10
Yeah, I agree. I agree. And I think your point about collaborating with your kid is the critical point. So something I learned to do is if my kids really really didn't want my input, I would say, Okay, I have an idea. I'm not going to share it with you unless you want to hear it. And sometimes it would take them you know, four months. They wanted to hear it, but they would come back and they'd be like, so you had this idea. I'm kind of curious. What was it?
Penny Williams 29:38
Yeah. So many things to think about. Yeah. But for Jenna, Wisconsin, do you let your kids fail? The answer is, it's complicated. But to just truly let your kids fail, my answer would be no. In the ways that we think about I just washing our hands of it stepping back and not supporting at all anymore. I think that's a mistake. Yeah. Yep. Well, this has been a fun conversation. Indeed, although it's a toughy. I don't think I've ever thought about this. So in depth before, but I think it's really good that we did. I think it's really good that we explored it. And I know it's gonna be helpful to a lot of families who have thought about this. I mean, the question comes up constantly, yes, in our social communities and stuff. So it's so super important. I'm glad we talked about it.
Sarah Wayland 30:33
And I'm glad Jen asked the question.
Penny Williams 30:35
Sarah Wayland 30:36
Thank you, Jen.
Penny Williams 30:36
Yes, for sure. It's something I know was on a lot of minds. So we appreciate her raising that question for us to cover. Yep, we have show notes for this episode, where you'll find links to the resources and materials that we've referenced here in this conversation there at parentingADHDandautism.com/203 for Episode 203, and Sara and I will be back in about a month with you for another behavior revolution episode, but I will see you next week on the next episode. Take good care. Bye. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingADHDandautism.com and thebehaviorrevolution.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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