One of the things that is particularly difficult for parents--maybe more difficult in our day than in the past--is helping our children deal with failure. When our children don't get the grade, honor, part in the play or on the team that they desire, it can be a challenge for them--and for us as parents.
In our day, way too often parents end up trying to push their children so that they will never fail, keep their children from failing, or fight to change the outcome when they fail. We all want our children to be happy, but as parents we have an incredible opportunity to love our children, care for them, and help them to grow toward maturity and accomplishment when they fail. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are helping a child deal with failure:
- Remember, that failure is a key motivator for future success. I have learned much more from my failures than from my successes. Failures actually can teach more than successes...if we allow them to happen and if we have an open heart and mind to hear what they are telling us. This is the critical point that I see parents forget when they try to keep their child from failing. Restraining failure is more often than not, diminishing future success.
- Failure gives us an incredible opportunity to show our children the stability of our love for them and the permanence of their identity in Christ. Children believe that we love them because they are good or because they accomplish things. Sadly, this often ends up with them believing that their parents love them only if they make the honor roll or are starting on the team. When they fail, put your arm around them and hug them. Help them to know that your love for them is NOT tied to their grade, their points per game, or the honors they earn. Remember, as they grow and mature, they are going to drop the ball in big ways. If you as a parent build a relationship with a strong loving foundation, you can be a support in those critical times in the future. Also, failure gives us the opportunity to talk with them about God's love for them. His love is not tied to performance. It is tied to His own goodness. He looks as His people through the lens of His love for us in Christ. He sees us through grace colored glasses. If our children are never allowed to fail, then they never have the opportunity to learn about the depth of God's love for them or yours.
- The ability to tolerate and learn from failure is crucial to success at the highest levels. If you are a parent hoping to prepare your child to change the world, there are few things that are more important than letting them fail and teaching them to learn from their failures. If you are going to accomplish things that are going to change the world, you have to learn to fail over and over again. Read David McCullough's recent book on the Wright Brothers. They failed innumerable times--and then they changed the world.
- Remember that it is not all about you. Too often when I see parents fighting desperately to keep their children from failing, the sad truth is that they are so tied to their children that they confuse their failure on a math test or as an athlete with their failure as a parent. We must work to avoid this confusion. Ironically, our fighting to keep our children from failing is often the thing that causes us to fail as a parent!
Finally, a parent might ask: "But what should I do if my child is dealing with real injustice! Shouldn't I fight for them then?" You should...or maybe you should not. The older a child gets the more you should encourage them and teach them to make a respectful appeal to an authority. The child should do this--not you. When the child is young or when he has made his appeal and been rejected, you might then need to wade in as a parent. I say might because, if the issue is small, you should probably just let it go and use it as an opportunity to teach them how to learn from disagreements with authorities. If you must step in, do so in a way that shows respect for the teacher, coach, or authority. Talk with them privately and don't let the child know about your work. Come to the conversation with an open mind. Often, children think that injustice has happened when really something else was at work. Protect authority structures whenever you can. (As a parent, you want them to protect you!) Finally, remember that getting the child the part they want, or the grade they want when they have not earned it, is one of the most harmful things that you can do.
Love them enough to let them fail!