I read an article by Jill M. Richardson, How to Deal with Failure, part of her Strong Kids series at A Fine Parent.com. Her article was aimed at parents of older children and even teens. But there were a few things she pointed out that I think we should start practicing even with our young children.
We live in a day and a culture that pressures us to make sure our children feel good. We want our children to feel good, but there is a danger in micromanaging their lives so they don’t experience failure at all. There are things we can do to help them deal with failures when they come, so that they are not crushed by them.
These are the ones I felt were most important for parents with young children. You may read her entire article at: A Fine Parent
- Rescue dogs, not kids
If a potential failure will not result in serious bodily harm or devastating embarrassment, let the child fail without Superparent to the rescue. Allowing for small failures now, teaches a child the skills to deal with, and perhaps even avoid, bigger ones later.
- Value Unstructured Play Time
Free time is when kids imagine, explore, and create. These are the formative hours for developing skills to problem solve. Scheduling kids so tightly that they lose this time cripples their creativity, a significant key to dealing with failure.
Unstructured play also allows kids to work out potential relationship issues. It’s in learning how to take turns with the swings, create an alternate world in the oak copse, or cope with a rule-flouting bully that kids figure out rule making, negotiation skills, and the heeding of others’ (sometimes unspoken) language.
Cause and effect teaches better than a parent playing labor dispute manager. Because we all know how well that works anyway.
- Teach Grit
Basically, it is the ability to persevere, maintaining effort despite setbacks and discouragements, with a marathon-type approach.
We can help our children find their passion and pursue it, not with a competitive mindset, but with a determination to keep at it no matter what. This “grit” is key to returning stronger from failure.
- Normalize Failure
Parents who shield their kids from failure leave another unintentional result. Their children come to regard failure as abnormal and unredeemable. A person for whom failure is seen as catastrophic and unacceptable internalizes the message that failure cannot be recovered from. It is terrifying.
Send them the message: Failure is normal. It happens to everyone. It is a part of life and learning. It is not shameful.
- Talk Through the Scenarios
What not to say: “You won’t fail.” “You”ll be great.” “They’d be crazy not to take you.”
Problem is, I can’t make that guarantee. I can’t promise she won’t be terrible. Plus, I don’t know all the factors going into whatever judgment she’s up against. Will she trust me again after she does fall on her face in that audition?
Instead, ask this question: “What’s the worst that can happen?” Whatever the answer, pursue it to the end. Helping her work through what could happen if she fails helps her face the fear of it.
Or say something like, ‘I can see you’re upset. What do you think is a good first step here?’
- Have Fun
With sensitivity, learn to laugh at your own failures and teach your child to do so as well. Obviously, this doesn’t mean howling when your kid falls on her face in the gymnastics meet. It does mean that learning to have a sense of humor about our own faults and missteps helps us to cope with the bigger ones.
Jill M. Richardson is a writer, speaker, former teacher, and pastor in the Chicago area. Besides her own three daughters, she has worked with kids through teaching, community theater, coaching reading teams, and youth groups.
See Jill’s Blog