You’ve cooed to, cuddled and coddled your baby since birth, but now that he’s growing up, he’s getting familiar with the school of hard knocks. Junior is falling (literally and figuratively), not winning soccer games, failing tests, striking out and forgetting his lines at the school play.
It’s hard to watch him get hurt and you want nothing more than to intervene and make his troubles go away. But as any wise parent knows, one of the kindest things you can do for your kiddo is to prep him for the realities of the real world ― and learning how to manage failure is one of the most vital lessons he’ll acquire.
“Life is all about problem solving and we can only turn into happy adults if we learn how to overcome painful thoughts and emotions and how to heal and move out of unhappiness,” notes Cornelia Dahinten family coach and director of The Parent You Want To Be ― Conscious Parenting Training and Playgroups. “For that to happen, you have to be unhappy first.”
About the biggest disservice you can do for your little one is to fix his problems. This only creates an unrealistic expectation of life, worse, your child will be distressed on entering the real world, only to encounter setbacks, which could be a job loss or getting a divorce.
“When you are eager to fix to your child’s problems and move on, you are limiting his skills and reinforcing his lack of confidence and hopelessness,” points out Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre. “Being made helpless and dependent on others creates anxiety and unhappiness and can lead to feelings of frustration and anger.”
Some of the happiest and most successful people are the ones who have learnt to be independent, Koh points out. “Everything they do is done with their own two hands. It’s a way of self-protection, self-creation, self-value, being more resilient and knowing where there stand in life. And these are tools they should learn from a young age.”
Failure may be the cornerstone to success, but not everyone handles it with grace, nor do they manage it well enough to rise from it. Instilling strength and resilience in your child is also a delicate matter ― you need to know when to push, when to give in, when to support and when to empathise. Here are a few tips to help you put your child on the path to lifelong success.
Help him overcome his fear for failure
Very often, a person’s key takeaway from failure is to never attempt the action ― or anything new ― ever again for fear that they might fail again. Since we can never avoid failure altogether, the next time it happens, they will most likely freeze, feel stressed, angry and anxious; succumb to depression and very likely pin the blame on someone else.
“To learn how to overcome fear, we need to be scared and be in situations which give us a fright,” Dahinten points out.
Encourage junior to take risks like doing something new that he would have never thought of doing but has secret passion for, like trying out for the debate team or joining a dance competition. By doing so, he will become more aware of his limitations and competencies. If he ends up failing, he will learn that it’s not a case of him being bad at something, but just that he hasn’t figured how to do it right yet.
“Life is all about problem solving and we can only turn into happy adults if we learn how to overcome painful thoughts and emotions and how to heal and move out of unhappiness.”
Be his guide, not his saviour
Dahinten gives this example: Say, one day, while you’re driving junior to school, he suddenly remembers that he left his homework at home. As a parent, your instinct is to rush home, pick it up and bring it to him, probably looking grumpy and scolding him all the while. From this your child learns only one thing: “I am a failure but mum and day will always fix things for me.”
But what if you decide not to save him by rushing home to get his homework? Instead, empathise with his situation and try to figure out together what he can do differently next time, so that he would not repeat this incident. “Your child learns that, ‘I did something wrong, but I am able to change it. It is not me as a person, but rather the way I have handled the situation. I am in power and there is always someone who supports me through my mess’,” says Dahinten.
However, if his failure is going to cause him extreme humiliation, then it’s your job as a parent to step in and help. For example, if your little fella forgot his costume for the school play, it’s not the right time to teach him about being responsible. Bring the costume to him first, then have that talk with him later.
Be mindful of your response to your child’s failure
Be aware of how you react to your child’s news of failure. Children want nothing more than to make their parents proud. So, if you criticise or show disappointment over junior’s setback, this is what he’s going to connect his failure to. He will feel incompetent and that he can never do anything right.
Instead, what your kid needs from you are words of wisdom and encouragement. Remind them of past successes when they had initially failed. It can be something as simple as when they were learning to walk as babies and had kept falling or trying to ride a bike and collecting scrapes on their knees and elbows from the multiple falls.
You can even throw in a few of your own experiences with failure and how you coped with it to make life after failure look more real for them. “Seeing someone they trust surviving life after failure, and remaining happy at that, gives them the strength to do the same,” Koh says.
However, don’t use your experiences to overshadow your child’s feelings and make it sound trivial. Nor do you want to normalise failing either. “Focus more on the improvement part ― what he could have done better or what can make it better ― rather than the failing part,” adds Koh.
Be aware of your own emotional baggage
“Parents parent the only way they know how to, which is to use past experiences of how they were parented,” Koh notes. If you had a traumatic experience with failure as a child and your parents never came to your rescue, chances are, you wouldn’t want your child to go through the same experience. But it won’t do you nor your peewee any favours if your sole aim in life is to make sure that you do everything you can in your power to shield junior from failure.
“It is impossible to leave your own parenting experience out of your parenting, as it is the only true experience and understanding you have of parenting,” Dahinten says. So, instead of repeating the same mistakes your parents made, you have the choice to consciously oppose their parenting styles.
By encouraging your child to take risks, fail and rise up again, you are giving yourself an opportunity to heal from your own past emotional wounds, she notes. Who knows, this might even inspire you to take your own risks at this ripe old age.
By the way, if the happiness of your children is the barometer you use to rate your performance as a parent, then you are doomed. “Children need to be unhappy a lot to succeed in the lessons of life, if their unhappiness means we have failed in our perception as parents, then get ready to fail lot,” Dahinten warns.
Failure is part of life and while failure does not always necessarily lead to success, it does instil determination and motivation.
Instead of making it sound big, scary and the be all and end all of life, show your children that failure is more about self-development than about defeat. Start drilling this into them from an early age, so that it’s the rule rather than the exception in their books.
Koh stresses, “Get them to understand that everything we learn in life is through trial and error and by learning and adapting ― whether it ‘s sports, art, music, learning to eat, writing, talking and walking.”
Failure is part of life and while it does not always necessarily lead to success, it does instil determination and motivation. “This brings happiness when one is able to see one’s achievements through trying and learning from mistakes or obtaining what was deemed impossible by never giving up,” adds Koh. “It makes you resilient and confident because even if you didn’t succeed the first time, you’re now equipped with enough skills to tackle similar challenges that may come along later on.”
Interested to pick up other life-skills that’ll set your child apart from his peers?
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