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Dealing with Disappointment: Helping Kids Face Fear of Failure

My wife and I were 23 and 27 when our first child was born. She showed up exactly on her due date and just a couple of days later, there I was pulling the Accord up to the entrance of the hospital to bring mom and baby home. As we pulled out of the parking lot, my wife turned to me and said, “They just let us leave with a baby. They have no idea if we know what we’re doing.”
Truthfully we really didn’t know what we were doing. Our oldest laments that fact on a regular basis. She is amazing as a young college student and is much more of a testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace than to our knowledge or wisdom back then. Or now for that matter.

Daily struggle

The truth is that parenting is a daily struggle filled with choices that always seem to have great significance. Almost all of us face the fear that we will get it wrong, mess it up or utterly fail as we guide the young lives entrusted to our care. Those fears can lead us to make decisions that are not in the best interests of our children.

You’ve probably heard the term “helicopter parent” to describe those who cannot let their little ones out of their sight for fear that something bad might happen — even if their “little ones” are heading off to college as young adults.

A related description is the term “lawnmower parents.” Lawnmower parents tend to go out before their children, smoothing the way and making sure their kids never meet with any obstacle they cannot easily hurdle. They may not require children to do chores. They may complete homework assignments and school projects for their children. Or they may intervene in conflicts instead of letting their children work out the problems on their own.

I’ve probably been told a thousand times by parents of school-aged children, “It’s just easier to do it myself and get it over with than it is to teach them how to do it.”

Of course they are absolutely right — in the short-term. But these parents are missing something incredibly important: their children also are missing hundreds or thousands of opportunities to learn very important skills. In the long term, children who are not held accountable for their own responsibilities and/or who have not learned to interact well with others lack important life skills.

Being intentional about allowing our kids to face challenges gives them the opportunity to learn life skills. Not only do they learn how to cook, clean, repair things, earn money, arrive on time and meet expectations, but they also learn what to do when their decisions go wrong.

I would venture to say that 90 percent of people who use an electric hand mixer the first time make the same mistake: they pick the beaters up out of the mixture while they are still spinning. The result of that action is always the same — batter sprays all over the kitchen. But I’ll also bet that most people never make that mistake again because cleaning up that mess reinforces the lesson learned and reminds the user not make that mistake again.

Clearly we have to keep a balance and be certain our kids’ limits are being expanded thoughtfully, strategically and carefully. But our kids will learn far more by cleaning up their messes than they ever will by being held back from making choices.

When we withhold these lessons from our children, we also run the very real risk of unintentionally sending the message that our kids are inept. When we withhold age-appropriate levels of challenge we send the silent message that we don’t really trust our kids to handle important decisions. The result is that they begin to doubt themselves at a core level.

Often this doubt and fear expresses itself as anxiety-driven perfectionism. In sensing that their parents are fearful they won’t get it right, kids begin to fear what might happen if they get it wrong and they over-compensate by trying to be perfect. Our kids need to experience both successes and failures so they understand that no one is capable of perfection.

We all are capable of perseverance, however. The process of learning from failure will help our kids develop self-confidence, core competencies and a robust skill set that will see them have success well into adulthood.

Lessons learned

Parents, please don’t fear failure. It often makes for the best stories. Think back on the lessons you learned because you had the chance to get it a little wrong. On my first date I thought I knew which house my girlfriend lived in and ended up going to the wrong door. The 85-year-old man who answered said he was flattered but didn’t need a corsage. Then he pointed me in the right direction. Sure I was embarrassed but that story has brought far more laughter than pain over the years.

As parents we need to help our children experience challenging situations, face their fears, learn from their mistakes, grieve their losses, endure hardship and trust that God is faithful in their successes as well as their mistakes.

 

This article was originally published in The Alabama Baptist Newspaper as a part of the Faith and Family series.

 

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