Helping Your Children to Fail Well
Failure is Enabling
One of the things I often notice about other parents is their unwillingness to acknowledge that their kids screw up. I see this a lot with teaching, but as a parent myself, I'm sometimes stunned by the magnitude of the blinders over some peoples' eyes. When did it become such a bad thing for a kid to be wrong? While it can be devastating for a parent to set an expectation of failure, it can be equally harmful for a parent to set up a guarantee of success. I might be old fashioned for feeling this way, but I think failing at things is a necessary and enabling process. It allows us to set benchmarks and goals; it allows us to stay humble and respectful of the task. Failing reminds us that the ultimate purpose of anything we do lies in the trying. It seems lousy to take this opportunity away from kids, particularly when it's one thing that is so easy to give.
Fictional Success is Worse
Some children today simply don't know how to fail well (as in the picture to the right), which results in some children not really knowing how to try well. Kids wail and swear when their teams lose; they point the finger at everyone but themselves when they fail a test. A typical session of parental consolation follows a typical episode of kid panic, which leads to more undue drama down the road. Why do some parents comfort their children when their children clearly haven't done their best? While well-intended, soothing children after they have a melt-down is essentially letting them know that yes, it really was as bad as they have imagined. This is why so many children pass the buck or freak out when things don't go their way. This is why so many kids lack a real understanding of tenacity. Their parents have unknowingly confirmed that the rest of the world just doesn't understand, and too many kids, in turn, find it perfectly acceptable to find fault outside of themselves for their own lack of trying.
This "fictional success" is dangerous. It helps a child to believe that the world owes them, which is the main ingredient in entitlement. I have never met an entitled person who is happy. Entitled children tend to grow up to be sulky, self-serving adults. Building a child's self-esteem is a wonderful part of being a parent, but deceiving your children into believing that they can do no wrong simply replaces self-confidence with a sense of entitlement.
Empowerment, Not Entitlement
So, then, what is a more balanced approach to parenting children? Separate the child from the action. If your son fails a test, it doesn't mean that he's a failure. If he takes it this way, then you've likely modeled an incorrect response for him. You've likely helped him believe that he's the victim when he fails, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. A child with healthy self-esteem responds to a failing grade with "I am going to kill myself studying next time." A self-confident person responds to a pounding on the soccer field with "I know I can do more to help my team win." There may be other factors influencing both those outcomes, but those are not factors that your child can own. Your child can only own himself, and it's your job to teach him how to do that. Praise your child for who she is, but correct her for what she does.
As a good parent, you must also always look at yourself honestly. Are you incapable of shouldering your own successes and failures? Do you separate a failed task from a failed you? Do you expect your child to respond to failure well when you don't?