See Part 1 here.
Beyond encouraging risk-taking, how do we help our kids learn and grow from the inevitable small failures along the way? Start by stepping back and letting the small failures happen. Let the little one lose to you at Old Maid. She might have a meltdown, but don’t lose your cool. Say “Honey, I know it feels bad to lose and you feel awful.” If she sees that you’re not upset and that you love and encourage her, she’ll see that failure isn’t the end of the world. Encourage your child to play sports, a great opportunity for learning from failure. But don’t be the parent who berates the coach or frequently races to field with left-behind soccer gear. That defeats the purpose.
Above all, try to avoid seeing your child’s failures as a reflection on your parenting—that also leads to the urge to helicopter in to prevent your child from failing. But everyone fails at something sometime and failing when the consequences are still small teaches great life lessons about trying again, working harder and learning from the inevitable failures. Remember that your child isn’t you—you don’t need to own their shortcomings.
Second, teach your child self-compassion. Screwing up hurts. The article How to Raise a (Successful) Failure by Jennifer King Lindley, (REAL SIMPLE Magazine, March 2019) quotes Rachel Simmons, author of the book Enough as She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy and Fulfilling Lives, who says, “We need to sit with them with those difficult emotions. Having parents take their feelings seriously is gold for kids—it is often what they most want. And they will learn that bad feelings aren’t going to destroy you.”
Use active listening and validate their discomfort and unhappiness. Encourage them to practice self-compassion by saying, “If your best friend was feeling like this, what would you say to them right now?” Helping them through the emotional pain helps them feel capable of trying again.
Third, emphasize the lessons. In the article, Kyla Haimovitz, a Ph.D psychology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied how parents react to kids’ failure, says, “Your reaction has a huge impact on your kids. Talk to them in a way that focuses on the process: ‘I’m sorry you are not happy with how things went. Could you try it in a different way? Could you talk to your teacher?’”
What isn’t helpful is language that suggests their abilities are fixed: “That’s OK, honey, I wasn’t good at science either” or “Don’t worry, maybe sports just aren’t your thing. You’re really good at reading.”
Don’t be afraid to share your own screw-ups. You may think being a good role model means you have to appear perfect, but it’s quite the opposite. Sharing your past mistakes lets your child see that mistakes are normal and so helps them to take their own failures in stride. Or talk about the struggles their heroes went through on their way to success.
Finally, Lindley concludes, “It’s never too late to stop running interference for your child. If you catch yourself filling out the learner’s permit form for your teen driver, be direct and say, ‘I’m sorry I haven’t been treating you as the competent person you are. You can do it and I’m here for you if you need me.” And don’t berate yourself for interfering. We all make mistakes! Consider it just another learning experience and resolve to do better in the future.
A graduate of Stanford University, Mary Waldmann and her husband Raymond raised three children who are now independent, well-adjusted and happy young adults. Before becoming a mother, she was a successful real estate broker, political consultant and public relations executive, and worked as a part-time communications consultant when her children were young. Mary is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Winning with Today's Media , Six-Word Lessons for Intentional Parenting, and Six-Word Lessons for Compelling Speeches.
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