My husband and I had the opportunity to work with our 9-year-old daughter on her first book report and display. It was a gentle reminder to us that her work is her work. She might have glued an item on the display a little crooked or laid out the outline a little differently than we would have. In the end, she was quite happy and that’s what counts. When I dropped her off at school and she headed inside with the display, which was nearly as big as she is, she just beamed with delight. When I picked her up that night and on the way home I waited for her to share the news about her report. She did not get the top grade. I paused for her reaction and realized this would be a great teachable moment.
An unfortunate aspect of today’s society is the intense focus on success without fully understanding effort experienced in order to reach this success. We often hear an athlete talk about the many occasions he or she failed before reaching a goal. Our emphasis on success is so great, we often lose sight of the fact that even when we “lose” we are still winning.
This intense focus on success is illustrated by the number of parents who have become overly protective of their children, doing all they can to shield their kids from potential failures. Society has hoodwinked parents into believing that self-esteem is born only through successful experiences, when in fact, it is typically the effort leading to the success that builds the self-esteem.
Failure provides a teachable moment for our children. As parents or grandparents, we need to take the time to help our children work through the lessons that can be learned through failure. This often takes place on the ride home from the game, the show, the fair or wherever your child has been tested. We can help our kids discover a sense of self, find balance so they learn how to cope, and develop resiliency to help them throughout life.
On the ride home, emotions are usually high, disappointment, frustration and exhaustion are heightened for both the child and the parent. It is important for parents to be a source of confidence and comfort whether your child won the purple, got best of show or performed poorly. One of my children was always quite talkative on the post-game ride home. She wanted to know what I thought of particular plays or if I thought the pitcher really was throwing that many strikes. My son prefers to have the time and space to digest the game and chill out physically and emotionally before talking about the competition. My rule of thumb is to be a quiet and reflective listener at whatever point they want to talk. I always discourage my children from blaming the failures of others or impugning the referees or judges. Just like competitors, these folks are not perfect either.
I encourage the kids to consider the competition just one piece of the larger pie of the season. This is a time where as parents we can talk through logic and emotion. When emotions run high after the stock show we usually do not think logically, and when we are devoid of emotion we often use our best logic and thinking skills. A good cue question is, “How did you feel the show went?” Let their response be the catalyst for more conversation. Ask them how they think they might improve for the next time. Your ideas of success and their ideas of success may be different.
Certainly we are good at celebrating successes and we know that children can learn much from them. Here are a few of the learning opportunities that failure, in any definition, can provide.
A chance to develop confidence, flexibility and courage.
An opportunity to learn to tolerate frustration and uncertainty and manage disappointment.
The possibility of taking responsibility for choices, actions and decisions that contributed to the failure.
The opportunity to analyze and review feedback about what worked and what didn’t and be willing to put in the work to make changes.
The recognition that the relationship between effort, preparation, persistence and accomplishment is important.
Discovery that failure is a temporary condition that can be changed if desired.
These six lessons can apply no matter the age of the child. The degree is dependent on the age of course but the value of the teachable moment is immense.
I’ll do well to remember this on the next book report, which my daughter just told me is due next week!