No one likes to fail. No one likes to experience disappointment. One of the hardest life lessons we face is picking ourselves back up after defeat. For some of us this can take months or even years to accomplish. But what happens when it is our children that experience failure and defeat? Do we rescue them and save them from the depths of despair? Do we commiserate with them and wallow in their misery? Or do we teach our children how to dust themselves off and try again? How we respond to our children’s failure will influence how they will define failure in their life.
Do you rush to rescue your child?
Some parents personalise their child’s failures. When we over identify with our child, we feel all of their experiences as if they were our own. This is not only unhealthy for us, but it is unhealthy for our children. Our children have their own strengths and weaknesses. Their struggles are not our struggles. We are only there to support our children along the way. When parents feel the bumps of their children’s lives too deeply, they will do anything to rescue their child from hurt, pain or failure. They are quick to rush to the school to argue a low grade. They are at the sidelines, yelling at the referee during a sporting event. They are up late at night finishing their child’s school project because their child didn’t manage their time well.
When we rescue our children, we steal from them an important life experience—failure. We create a false sense of success. When these children grow up they are ill-equipped at handling failure because they never had to experience it as a child. Instead of rescuing our children, we inadvertently set them up for long-term struggle. As parents we have the opportunity to teach our children how to move past failure and disappointment. We can give them the tools to not only get through failure, but to thrive past it.
We can do that by conveying these messages to our children:
Let your child know that everyone fails. That failing is a part of life. Tell them that they didn’t come out of the womb walking. They had to fall hundreds of times before their body learned the art of walking. Tell them that some of our greatest minds failed. Albert Einstein didn’t learn to read until he was seven years old. Thomas Edison’s light bulb invention failed 1,000 times before he was successful.
Share with your child some of your own failures. Letting your child know that you are fallible will help them see that failure is normal and that it happens to everyone.
Failure is part of success
Without failure none of us would ever experience success. When we fail, we are given the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and do it better. Help your child explore what they have learned from their failure. How would they do it better next time? Try to be motivating and not overly critical. Most children are already feeling pretty bad about themselves when they experience failure. You berating them won’t make them do better next time. For instance if your child did poorly on an exam you may say, “You didn’t study. You deserve that grade because you didn’t put in any effort.” While this may be true it isn’t going to inspire your child to do better next time. Instead, re-frame the failure by saying something like, “When you study you do well. You are intelligent and I love how you learn things so quickly. Next time, I know if you work harder on your subjects, you’ll do great on the exam.”
Failure is part of the process
Failure is often part of the process. Thomas Edison wouldn’t have been able to develop the light bulb if he hadn’t failed a thousand times. It was in those failures that he was given the clues on how to continually improve his project and eventually make one of the most important inventions of our time. Ask your child if they can think of a time their failure made them improve. Did they get better at a sport after practising? Did they learn how to balance on a bike after falling? Help your child make these connections.
It is your effort that matters
Focus on praising your child’s effort. If one child studied for five hours and got a low grade on an exam and the other didn’t study at all and got a perfect score, which child deserves more praise? When you only focus on results and not on the process, your child can get the wrong message. You want to foster hard work and praise effort, even if the end result is less than perfect.
As parents we understand failure well. Parenthood can be a struggle and most of us have felt failure at some point during the journey. If we can help our children see failure as a learning opportunity, we will be teaching them one of the greatest life lessons.
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