One of the hardest things for a parent to have to deal with is to see their child struggle with failure. But how you handle things when they have blown it or not made the grade in some way can turn what seems to be a disaster into a rich learning experience.
As a father of five, I have faced this situation countless times. One daughter was crushed when she didn’t get the lead role in a play that she’d set her heart on. A son was devastated when he didn’t make the starting team.
When your child comes to you with what they think is an “F” of some kind, these seven A’s will help you encourage them to turn a defeat or setback into an opportunity for growth.
1. Affirm worth.
Let them know that they are loved no matter what. Be sure to separate their identity, who they are at the core of their being, from their actions. This can be especially hard for young people these days who are bombarded by media that says their value is based on their performance. You may want to listen to this 8 Lies Your Teen Believes podcast. Counter this attack on their worth by speaking about the qualities and strengths that you see in them. Get specific, so they know you mean it.
2. Applaud effort.
No one can ask more of someone else than to give it their best. If your child has done that, then the results are out of their hands. So be sure to commend them for trying. Again, be detailed; remind them of the time they spent revising, rehearsing, or practicing. Point out that their efforts were not wasted: they may not have “succeeded” at something, but they undoubtedly improved.
3. Acknowledge feelings.
Give them room to face and admit what can be difficult emotions like shame, guilt, or embarrassment. Many people run from these kinds of feelings because they can be so uncomfortable; instead, help your children navigate through them and prepare them for other bigger emotional challenges they may face as they get older. But tread carefully here as you Dig Deep Into Your Child’s Heart.
4. Align yourself.
One way to help them wrestle with awkward emotions is to tell them, “Me too!” Share an experience from your own life when you failed in some way, and recall how you felt. Talk about what you learned from it all. Realizing that you have been there and survived will be an encouragement to them.
5. Ask questions.
When you sense they are comfortable enough to talk about it, invite them to examine what went wrong, or where they may have gone wrong. “What might you do differently next time, knowing what you do now?” And help them learn to weigh and balance the powerful way their emotions can affect their perception. “Why do you think it feels so bad to have been left out because that means you’re not acceptable? Is that really true?”
6. Advocate reflection.
Help them put things in perspective. Remind them that failure doesn’t have to be the end of the world, but can just be a stopover on the way to success. Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, and The Beatles are among this list of “successful failures”. As you talk together, here are 5 Things to Teach Your Kids About Failure. You can also help alter the mood of the discussion with some riddles here and there.
7. Avoid flattery.
We live in a culture that gives trophies to kids just for showing up, but the real world isn’t like that. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Your child must understand that reality. Everyone experiences failure at some point. Avoid false flattery and be authentic in praising your child for who they are and their incredible gifts.
Avoid false flattery and be authentic in praising your child for who they are and their incredible gifts.
How do you help minimize the fear of failure in your children, and then help them overcome it when they face it? Share your thoughts and experiences below.