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Helping Children Respond to Failure

Gary Brackett, former Middle Linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts recently posted on Twitter & Instagram, “I never fail, either I win or I learn.”

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you prevented a child from failing to protect them from feelings of disappointment?  You aren’t alone! As a parent I’ve made the mistake of protecting both of my children from failure.  As an elementary school administrator, I observe parents swooping in to save the day often. In this post, I will challenge our thinking to realize protecting our kids from disappointment, adversity, or failure is not a form of love. According to Foster Cline and Jim Fay, the authors of Parenting with Love and Logic, many parents confuse love, protection, and caring.

The truth is, caring for our children doesn’t imply we protect them from every potential mistake they’ll ever make.  Cline and Fay state that parents who do over protect in an unhealthy way do it more for themselves out of their own selfish needs.  Do you agree?  If Sarah forgets her lunchbox, is it the end of the world if she has to choose a school lunch as a natural consequence?  What lessons are we teaching her about being responsible if you leave work because we are so close to the school and rescue Sarah from the natural consequence of her actions? Why does a worried mom or dad feel responsible for Sarah’s forgetfulness?  If Joey forgets his project that is due for math class, but forgets it on the kitchen table after working on the final touches after breakfast, should you take it to him?  The answer is no.  If children, from a young age, are taught to address and effectively handle their emotions when a disappointment happens then they are more likely to become resilient and responsible young adults.  Most research says that children at the age of 9 months old begin learning the difference between right and wrong, yes and no, and the feelings associated with both.  Let’s face it, our children will certainly face disappointment, adversity, and even failure.

When our children encounter situations of disappointment, adversity, or failure, it is more about how we respond as adults.  If we swoop in and save the day when their is a potential for disappointment, we starve our kids from the experience they need to practice resiliency.  One of the most important things we as parents and teachers can teach our children is that failure is not embarrassing, nor does it bring shame to them, their classroom, school, or family.  Meeting children with empathy, love, and support during this time is more important. I’ve found many great resources online and in print that help our children turn mistakes into opportunities!  Our children need to believe they are amazing beyond their performance in that game or the grade they received on that project because responsible children feel good about themselves.  A caution to all of us, children learn to feel love and acceptance from the caring adults in their lives.  Let’s make sure the only way our children don’t receive love is when they are doing well.  It is equally important to share our love in tough times.

If you’d like more resources on Parenting with Love and Logic or helping children respond to failure, click the links below:

Parenting with Love and Logic By Foster Cline, MD & Jim Fay

Perfectly Imperfect:  Tips for Helping Kids Deal with Failure

How to Help Kids Overcome Fear of Failure  By Vicki Zakrzewski

Sincerely yours,