Let your kid fail? Aka landing the he... - CHADD's ADHD Pare...

CHADD's ADHD Parents Together

12,847 members4,158 posts

Let your kid fail? Aka landing the helicopter

Marin_Mom
Marin_Mom

Hey all, So thankful for this forum especially during the last year. As a Mom of a 13 year old boy I hear people say that sometimes we just need to let our kids fail. I have hit a wall with the struggle around screen time and staying on top of homework that this approach is really appealing to me. At some point a kid needs to decide for themselves how motivated they are. It’s strange to work so hard to support a kid with ADHD throughout their younger years and then wake up and realize that maybe they don’t think they can fail because they are so well supported by you. I’ve seen adults who weren’t able to get ahold of their ADHD really struggle and so it makes encouraging autonomy more precarious even though it’s what I hope most for him. Does anyone else have experience with letting go of the reigns around this age? Or do we need to approach things differently with ADHD? Thanks 🙏🏽

15 Replies

Hi,Earlier this week I was at a middle school parent-teacher conference and the teacher said a common mistake is parents just "let go of the reins" when the kid hits middle school. (Even if the child shows no ability to manage school expectations on their own.) His suggestion was to still be involved and go over assignments together, but less often (2x per week) than elementary school. Just thought of this because you used the same phrase "letting go of the reins"! For what it is worth...

Thanks for your message. I think I have had this experience. Our son is 14 years old and has failed a lot...Currently he is a freshman in high school ( all on line) and he knows and understands he is different and that his struggles are real. We have lots of challenges with him, but we force him deal with his failures. For example, everyday we tell to take his time when doing school work do not race thought it... this has really been for years. He tells us he doesn't race through he takes his time, but everytime I turn around he has YouTube in his ear. So for every assignment he turns in he has to sit with his teacher and go over it so it is not an F. We listen to him talk to the teacher and explain he needs help. He is starting to take his time more now. He knows he wants good grades but we know he doesn't know what it takes to get them. This is where we guide him.

For me the only control I have with electronics is a password or the parent control on the device. When things get bad I just turn them off.

I know what you mean about them needing to fail, I guess I feel our son is really functioning at a 12 year old level although he is 14yrs old. I still see our role as support. Yes, we are exhausted, but him having thearpy, which we do together has really helped us. I am able to say this contuines to be the problem and we work out solutions.

Hope this helps a little.

Hi. I can echo what the other responders have said. Our 13 yr old son is having the same issues you described and we are in the process of seeing if we can find a medication that works, working with his school for extra support and hiring an ADHD coach and a tutor. We will remain very involved even with a coach and a tutor because all children/teens need the ongoing support because of their ADHD. Of course the hope is that our son will develop skills to manage his school work and life better but we'll still be there to support him. We are getting support ourselves through a therapist who specializes in ADHD. As you well know, this is very hard on the whole family. I recommend the book by Chris A. Zeigler Dendy if you haven't heard of it "Teenagers with ADD and ADHD".

Our son is 16 and has a mild case of ADHD and is currently unmedicated. We're "letting him fail" more now than we ever did when he was 13 or 14. And he's actually risen to the occasion because he knows that if his grades are bad, he loses privileges like sleeping over at friends houses, having access to Wifi, driving, etc. We also try not to spin anything negative -- it's more like "look at all the good stuff you're getting because you're grades are good! Keep it up!" Ultimately, letting him fail is the best thing you can do because it forces him to realize what he wants out of school (and what privileges he wants at home) and what he needs to do to get there. Don't let all the way go if you don't want to, but at least let one hand go.

I like that "one hand" approach! No matter the learning profile, all kids need to learn how to fail at some point. I suppose it's better to learn it now while they are younger and the consequences are less serious! Thanks!

Hi! My wife & I can totally relate. We try to keep in mind that even kids without learning challenges are struggling with COVID distant learning. My son was definitely not getting what he needs to succeed so we added an IEP so he could get more individualized help. In addition, we’re paying for outside tutoring. He still is getting D & Fs. That said, we are NOT overly worried about grades, particularly with the complete cluster $&@$& of distant learning this year. We are MORE worried about his self esteem & self motivation. Learning the content is much less important than learning how to think & how to learn, but even more important, finding things he is naturally good at & encouraging him to hone these skills. Often those skills don’t fit into the standard curriculum that seem designed to create office workers. My kid likely won’t be an office worker. What I do see is that he’s very good at putting things together, so he’s naturally mechanically inclined. It’s amazing how proud he is when he puts together a lego technic designed for a 16 year old (he’s 13). We make sure we tell him how impressive that is & he glows with pride. School right now is the opposite for him, he gets nagged & scolded by teachers (and us!), & then gets Fs anyway. This will NEVER motivate him or teach him how to learn. We try to show him how math & reading comprehension will make him even better at putting things together, better at things he’s naturally good at. My point in all this is, our kids learn differently & it’s our job as parents to build their self esteem & help them navigate an educational system that’s not really designed for them. Letting them fail is not really the right strategy, rather, it’s helping them find where they can succeed.

Marin_Mom
Marin_Mom in reply to Mmagusin

I love this. Great job and thanks for sharing!!

Just had an ARD meeting for my grandson who is flunking freshman year of high school. They are going to try a program to get him caught up but he may be a 5 year high school student. One of the counselors said her daughter was similar and had to repeat freshman year. I still work full time in an essential clinic and by evening am exhausted . Hard to pull together enough energy to help him and half the time don't even know what to do.

Marin_Mom
Marin_Mom in reply to anirush

Well, first of all that's amazing that you even want to be this involved with your grandson's education! And I feel you about reaching my bandwidth. I hope you are able to find the support he needs. I know there is such a wealth of affordable tutoring online now

You are preaching at the choir in this forum. LOL. Oh, we all feel you! You have heard advice from both sides. I will share my personal experience with the hope that you can take away something to apply to your personal situation.

As a Mom of a 13 year old boy I hear people say that sometimes we just need to let our kids fail.

I would question where you heard this advice from. Yes, for a neurotypical child this makes sense, however, children with ADHD lack the skills to navigate successfully on their own. Rather I learned from our therapist the approach of slowly releasing my grip. If they start to navigate successfully on their own, then I continue to take baby steps backwards. If they start to drown, I come back in closer. Kids have coaches for teams and parents for life skills. I see it as my job to know when to step in and when to step back.

I have hit a wall with the struggle around screen time and staying on top of homework

There is a huge pile of parents stacked up against this wall —- especially since COVID hit. LOL. Personally, removing screen time was a mistake for us because my teen daughter then completely shuts down and accomplishes nothing. I’ve seen many parents experience this. Have you tried a behavior chart? Our anxiety/ADHD therapist had us develop one and it was life changing. Respond to my post if you’re interested and I’ll share it with you. I actually just pulled it back out today because it has become necessary again. Yes, it works for teens too.

At some point a kid needs to decide for themselves how motivated they are. It’s strange to work so hard to support a kid with ADHD throughout their younger years and then wake up and realize that maybe they don’t think they can fail because they are so well supported by you.

Yes, they may begin to take your “saving” them for granted and therefore not put in any effort. This is where you clearly tell them you are loosening your grip (don’t blindside them) and that they will be expected to step up (this is where a behavior chart is helpful). I wouldn’t pull the rug out from underneath them. Help with homework less, only check in once per week rather than every day, etc. If it’s starts to go off the rails then you come in closer after that trial week.

I’ve seen adults who weren’t able to get ahold of their ADHD really struggle and so it makes encouraging autonomy more precarious even though it’s what I hope most for him. Does anyone else have experience with letting go of the reigns around this age? Or do we need to approach things differently with ADHD?

There are many adults who struggle but I have seen growth in my ADHD college student. I would venture a guess that they didn’t have anyone teach them what to do. Does my son still struggle? Absolutely! However, what is different now is that he is taking over the strategies himself. He knows what to do if things go amiss. He has learned from my modeling what to do (taking medicine right on schedule / planning ahead on hw to see if he needs a tutor / being responsible for cancelling the tutor 24 hours in advance if he doesn’t need her / reviewing hw right when it’s assigned so he can see if he needs to email the teacher about a question). These things aren’t on their radar but they can learn about them from someone who models it for them. They are learned behaviors from observing. What will motivate is seeing success in small steps.

Kids with ADHD will need help into early adulthood. It’s a process of knowing how to slowly let go so they can take over for themselves. Only you know when they are ready to take a portion of something on themselves - not a doctor, not a friend. You, the parent know. Have confidence in that.

I hope this helps!

Luvmkids
Luvmkids in reply to Redpanda5

Well said!

Marin_Mom
Marin_Mom in reply to Redpanda5

Wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to respond so thoroughly and for your perspective as a Mom of an older child. I'm sure I posted because I was already questioning this approach, and am also feeling the overwhelm of this long haul we have in front of us. Defining what "letting go" means is a bit different for all of us, and I'm finding I can't just leave him hanging, even if I tried. Taking things away really doesn't seem to accomplish anything either, as you pointed out. You're reminding me that positive reinforcement is more impactful anyway. Is there anything you do to celebrate those small wins?

Redpanda5
Redpanda5 in reply to Marin_Mom

Aw, happy to help! We all feel these struggles from the bottom of our hearts - ALL of us! We don’t necessarily celebrate the small wins. I just make sure I acknowledge them. I simply just ask them how it feels and they are usually happy to share. All I do is tell them they should be proud of themselves. That’s all they need.

I would recommend reading the book "The Essential Guide to Raising Complex Kids with ADHD, Anxiety, and More." It specifically talks about letting children fail and provides a structure and methodology for support systems and how and when to provide less support. It's not about age, but about development. Kids with ADHD are more vulnerable to the emotional and psychological impact of failing. If a child doesn't have the skills to help themselves, letting them fail is going to do more harm than good. I'm not saying support them forever, but know the how's, why's, and when's of reducing support to allow them to develop their ability to support themselves and this book is a valuable tool to figuring that out and implementing a more intentional process.

Marin_Mom
Marin_Mom in reply to mrl12

Thank you!! This sounds like exactly what I am looking for!

You may also like...