Parents Perspective

20 Bad Things That Can Be Good For Kids

The helicopter has landed: The author of the new book How to Raise an Adult shares the truth about helping kids become self-sufficient.

Upset boy sitting in corner covering face Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock
Of course, it's our job as parents to help protect our children from harm, but overprotecting them can cause harm. I'm more convinced of this than ever after hearing a fabulous talk last week by Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the new book How to Raise an Adult. Lythcott-Haims was the freshman dean at Stanford for 10 years, and she was amazed how many smart students couldn't make even the simplest decision without texting their parents. Some even had their moms call their professors when they were disappointed with a grade. "We've been given the awesome, humbling task of helping a young human unfold," Lythcott-Haims says. "What they need most of all is our love and support as they go about the hard and joyful work of learning the skills and mindsets needed to be a thriving, successful adult."

Lythcott-Haims argues that letting kids fail is crucial for helping them become independent and ready to handle the disappointments that are inevitable in life. She includes a more detailed list than I've ever seen of bad events that help kids become more resilient (which originally appeared in GIST: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids, by psychologist Michael Anderson, Ph.D., and pediatrician Tim Johanson, M.D.). Many of these won't happen to young kids (and some are particularly tough to swallow), but it's a list worth saving.

Mistakes and Curveballs You Must Let Your Kid Experience:

  1. Not being invited to a birthday party
  2. The death of a pet
  3. Breaking a valuable vase
  4. Working hard on a paper and still getting a bad grade
  5. Having a car break down away from home
  6. Seeing the tree he planted die
  7. Being told that a class or camp is full
  8. Getting detention
  9. Missing a TV show because she was helping Grandma
  10. Having a fender bender
  11. Being blamed for something he didn't do
  12. Having an event canceled because someone else misbehaved
  13. Being fired from a job
  14. Not making the varsity team
  15. Coming in last at something
  16. Being hit by another kid
  17. Rejecting something he had been taught
  18. Deeply regretting saying something she can't take back
  19. Not being invited when friends are going out
  20. Being picked last for neighborhood kickball

We can certainly comfort our kids and encourage them to brainstorm next steps. But Lythcott-Haims gives tribute to our wise advisor, Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., whose book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee elaborates on this point: "Even though our impulse is to protect and prevent upset, we must step back, muzzle ourselves, and sit on our hands—whatever it takes so that they can figure out that they are capable of handling their discomfort, devising solutions, and moving on."

Diane Debrovner is the deputy editor of Parents and the mother of two girls. Follow her on Twitter: @ddebrovner.