The mother hears the alarm go off to wake up her daughter for school. The alarm stops and several minutes go by without a sign of her daughter coming down the stairs. The mother stops her own morning preparations to go pry her daughter out of bed yet again.
This is followed by preparing her daughter’s breakfast and getting her bag packed for the day. The mother thought that by 6th grade she would be done with this routine. Later that day, she has to spend her lunch hour going home and getting her daughter’s book report.
While all parents want the best for their children, how far should they go? This is a question parents struggle with regarding the line between supporting their child’s efforts and preventing their child from failing.
Parents want their children to thrive and do everything possible to have their children experience success. However, fewer parents allow their children to learn how to fail. Yet failure maybe one of the best experiences children can have as it can lead them to become more productive, independent, and successful in the future.
Learning how to tolerate failure allows children to develop perseverance and be more resilient in the face of challenges. Children who never experience failure are more likely to give up when they are challenged and be reluctant to try new things. Parents who enable their children, like the mother above, are setting up their children to become more anxious and likely to fail later on.
Parents can help their children learn how to tolerate failure. This starts with parents resisting the impulse to intervene and protect their children from failure. Children need to take chances and occasionally that results in failure. When failure occurs, parents need to show empathy. This means acknowledging that their child is likely feeling frustrated and disappointed. Parents can let their child know that these feelings are natural.
Parents can further elaborate and make the failure a teachable moment. This means taking a step back from the emotions of the situation, accept the failure for what it was, and thinking about how the situation could have been handled differently. This approach changes a failure into a valued learning opportunity that allows the child to accept what has happened and think about how to prevent it from happening again in the future.
To lessen the sting of failure, it can help children if they know that failure happens to everyone, even their parents. Parents can bring up times in their lives when they experienced failure. This could include the time a father did not make his high school basketball team or when a mother froze up in the middle of a class presentation. Parents should also talk about how they handled the failure and how they may have done things differently. This serves as a model for children to follow when they experience their own failures.
Failure is an option for children and one that can have a wealth of hidden benefits. It makes children more resilient and more likely to persevere in the face of hardship. The next time your children want to attempt something where you have doubts about their success, let them try it and see what happens. It will be good for them, regardless of the outcome.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on October 2, 2015