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Kids that learn the hard way

20 February
Posted by:
Michael Grose

Does your child act before he thinks? 
Would he pat a dog, even though you warn him not to? 
Would your child ignore a ‘wet paint, don’t touch’ sign and check it out for themselves? 

If you’re busy nodding your head then chances are your child likes to learn through trial and error.

“You can tell me all you want, but I’m going to find out for myself” is their motto. They don’t like to be told. Experience is their teacher. The lessons learned at the school of hard knocks can be bitter, which makes parenting these kids pretty tough.

Inside school these kids are hands-on and tactile. They love to experiment and tinker. They learn about flight by making paper aeroplanes and flying them through their classrooms. They’ll adjust the nose, tail and wings to make it fly longer.

They learn about human behaviour by watching the reactions of classmates as the aeroplanes fly. They’ll notice that some people will react differently. Mates will love it and most likely laugh. Others will cringe and roll their eyes.

They learn about limits when the teacher keeps them after class for flying paper aeroplanes in the wrong place at the wrong time. They’ll adjust their behavior to avoid being kept in. But if the pay-off is big enough in terms of getting a reaction from peers, they may choose to continue flying paper aeroplanes in class instead. The pay-off is worth the risk of being caught!!

These trial and error kids learn many of their life lessons through experience. They will test the boundaries parents set, and ignore their well-meaning advice. These are the young adults who’ll take their time settling down, perhaps travelling overseas to get some experiences before deciding the path they choose.

Trial and error kids learners are more likely to be boys, and more likely to be worrying in the teenage years, which are highly experimental anyway.

The risks when young involve scraped knees, hurt egos and disappointment. They are minor compared to the risks that ten-foot-and bullet-proof teens can take. This can be scary, but it doesn’t mean parents should shelter their kids.

Here are some tips for parenting trial and error kids so they stay safe and absorb lessons along the way:

  1. Make their problem, their problem: Sometimes we as adults can take on their concerns and make them our own. If something doesn’t bother them and there is no risk or infringement to other people’s rights then let them be. Hint: A jumper is something a parent puts on his/her child when they’re cold. (Sal Severe’s book “How to behave so your children will too!” has great ideas about this area. Find out more.)

  2. Let them experience natural consequences: Natural consequences are fabulous teachers so step back and allow kids to experience the outcome of their decision, whether pleasant or unpleasant. For instance, if a child spends all his pocket money on the first day of the week may learn the value of planning if his pocket-money is not topped up.! (My book One Step Ahead goes into more detail about the magic of natural and logical consequences. Find out more.)

  3. Save them from themselves: Differentiate between safe risks and unsafe risks. The use of natural consequences doesn’t apply when a child’s safety or well-being is at-risk. If you know a child is going to ride his bike in an absolutely reckless way then banning the bike for a time maybe the best option (logical consequences). If he’s going to be reckless with pocket-money spending then natural consequences may well be the best teacher as the risks are different.

  4. Link behaviour with outcomes: Annoying the family pooch to the point where she snaps is an obvious link. Sometimes the lessons kids should learn need some explaining. So be prepared to reinforce life’s lesson if they don’t get it. “The reason your friends don’t go to the footy with you is that you keep annoying them……”

  5. Keep explaining: Sometimes the lessons take a while to sink in so you need to be patient and also keep explaining. It may seem like nagging but there is often no other way.

Allowing kids to absorb life’s lessons is a tough gig for parents. But for some kids and some situations, it’s the only option available! For more parenting ideas go to


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