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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Teachworth White, Cary M Hamilton

Allowing Children to Be Wrong

It's all about the power struggle.

We hate them. They happen anyway, and we would really like them to stop.

Here is a little story to help understand it is ok for your child to be wrong, to express it, and for you to let it go.

They might not like being wrong however, it is a part of learning to be human.

My daughter has a favorite fast-food restaurant. This restaurant has it all -- french fries, fruit cups, and an indoor playground. That’s all she really wants from a restaurant. And while our standards for dining out might be (very) different, we do end up at this fast food restaurant pretty often. Except for Sundays. They are closed on Sundays.

“No Mama, they’re open today. We can go there,” my four-year-old asserts with all of her usual confidence.

I explain that this business is closed on Sundays and today is, in fact, Sunday. Still, there’s no moving her. She is rock solid in her belief that if we drove to the restaurant, she could have all of her favorite things just as it is in her mind. I could debate her on this.

However, past experience has taught me that this only leads to doubling down on her certainty, and, let me tell you, no one has more endurance for a power struggle than a 4-year-old.

“I hear you, you think they’re open. We’re not going there today.”

Does this make her disappointment go away? No (and my next statement is often “I know, that’s so disappointing,” to validate how she’s feeling). Does this mean we’re going somewhere else to feel better? Not if it wasn’t in our plan for the day. Will she likely cry? Yeah. Does she still think the restaurant is open? Probably, but that doesn’t matter. Even though she is wrong about this fact, that’s okay.

At this moment, what’s most important is making sure understands the boundary and validating how she feels.

If you’re wondering why I’m spelling out my process here, it’s because I have witnessed adults spend time and energy asserting their knowledge or expertise on children. When the child doesn’t accept their authority as an expert on, say, a fast food restaurant's operational hours, then some parents end up in a power struggle.

It seems like the thinking goes something like this:

“Oh, she’s wrong about this. Let me tell her the fact.” > “She’s not going with what I’m saying. She must not understand. Let me explain some more.” > “Okay, this is annoying. She’s getting more upset and she won’t believe me. If she would simply listen, she would calm down.” > Insert parent’s angry or shutting down response here.

It starts off well-intentioned and calm enough but ends up in a frustrated/emotional experience. On top of that, the child still asserts their original belief. No understanding was gained, and now the parent and child feel disconnected from one another. So what should a parent do? Am I suggesting you let your child be wrong? Yes, in circumstances like these.

Here’s why:

  • When being wrong is met with over-correction, it can make your child defensive. Consider the last time you were corrected on something you knew was right. How easy was it for you to accept new information?

  • Now, imagine it was something you were excited about or expecting to happen. Along with feeling off balance in learning you were wrong, you would be feeling disappointment or frustration. You’re not in a place to learn or process emotions because you’re in “fight or flight” mode. Your child won’t be in a place to cooperate until she is feeling safe.

  • If we inform our children’s world primarily by correction, then we’re communicating that the only way to learn about the world is to go to an authority figure. We’re showing them to set aside or ignore their emotions or instincts. We’re not encouraging exploration or curiosity so they can grow critical thinking skills.

This might sound like a lot of thought for talking about not going to a fast food restaurant. However, it is a big picture ideal that you can hold in the back of your mind and use to inform these kinds of conversations.

When we can be thoughtful in advance of the things we want to inspire in our children, then we’ve primed to make the most of these everyday conversations.

So, next time you’re feeling the pull to correct your child on a small matter, consider why that is and if it’s necessary.

It’s okay for our kids to be wrong.

We can show them that they can be wrong, we’ll accept them, and we can encourage them to seek the right answers by providing a platform of connection and understanding.

Besides, letting go of our own need to be “right” is the best way to set an example of tolerance…as well as avoid a power struggle.

They only will get older and wiser making power struggles more about you than them. Parenting is all about the relationship, thus always be thinking "What do I want them to learn right now?"

by Morgan Teachworth-White & Cary M. Hamilton


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