11 May I’m Sorry; I Just Never Learned How to Fail
It’s loud and cold, but you don’t notice. Your son is playing in the state football championship game. He has worked relentlessly to be ready for this game. He’s been hitting the gym, attending practices, and has even missed hanging out with friends to be ready for tonight.
You know how much he wants to win, and he’s not the only one who has put effort into this game. You have taken him to practices, watched every game, and have been his support system since he was a small boy. You have literally seen the blood, sweat, and tears.
It’s the end of the game, and the other team is ahead by one touch down. Your team has the ball. The quarterback makes an exceptional pass. Your son is standing in the end zone. He jumps! You and the rest of the crowd simultaneously jump to your feet with him.
He’s going to catch it! Your son is about to be a small town hero! His hard work is about to pay off!
You see the ball spiraling towards him. He’s made this catch a million times. You can’t wait to see the excitement on his face. The ball goes right into his hands, but something happens.
He can’t quite seem to grab it. He drops the ball. The crowd goes silent. That’s the end of the game.
Now what? What do you say to him later tonight? Your son gave this game everything he had, and didn’t win. He will probably feel like he “failed.”
Failure is an interesting concept. In our society everyone gets a trophy, a participation medal, or a certificate. No one fails. No one looses. It’s what we consider to be fair. Is it fair to teach children that they won’t fail?
We go to great lengths to protect our children from failing. We don’t want their feelings to be hurt. We don’t want them to feel disappointed. We even sometimes go out of our way to blame others for our children’s failures. Why?
Teaching your child how to fail, and that it is okay to do so, is one of the kindest lessons you can teach them. Life is not fair. They will not always make the team, they will not always get the girl, and they will not always get their dream job. However, they will be okay.
As a society, we are so engrained in improving self-esteem; we are forgetting to teach how to cope with disappointments.
We can teach children how to cope with failure while also helping improve their self-esteem. Children, just like adults, feel more validated when they earn what they have worked for. Children can be taught how to handle failure, and how to motivate themselves afterwards.
The following are suggestions on how to do this:
Be a guide. It is important to remember that your child will have heartache’s when you are not around. Children need to be asked how they think they can solve their own problems. Allowing them to come up with their own solutions gives them a sense of control.
Children are smarter than we sometimes think. They can solve their own problems, but they may need your help and guidance. They will feel empowered when they make their own decisions.
Avoid setting unrealistic expectations. If your child is struggling in a subject at school, encourage them to strive for a goal that is within reach. After they have reached that goal, encourage them to work harder. Your child will feel successful as they accomplish reasonable goals.
Be a good role model for your child. When you fail, allow your children to see you do so. Let them see how you handle the situation. Talk through it with them. Let them see that you are hopeful, even after failing.
You know your child better than anyone else. You know what will motivate them, and what will disappoint them. I am not suggesting that you allow your children to put themselves in a position where they could be seriously hurt. I am suggesting that as adults, parents, and teachers we look for ways children can learn how to fail safely.
When children fail in a safe environment, they are more prepared for failures elsewhere. They will know that they can move forward. Children do not stay young forever, and their disappointments in life will only become harder.
Let us teach our children that there is life after failures. Let us teach them that they can pick themselves up when they get knocked down. Let us be kind, and teach our children how to handle failure with dignity and hope.