Being a parent is a high-stress job. I mean, if you think about it, you are directly responsible for someone else’s life (and in my case, two lives). It is up to you to make sure that your children are healthy, happy and safe, while also making sure that they are learning the skills they need to live in this oftentimes crazy world. I oftentimes find myself thinking “Am I doing a good enough job?”, “Is this helping or hurting their development?”, and my most constant thought: “I have no idea what I’m doing…so I just have to fake it until I make it.” Making sure my kids are successful in life is one of my top priorities, and quite frankly the thought of failure is scary.
Along that line, an important lesson I believe all children need to learn is how to deal with failure: from losing a board game to falling off their bike to dreaming the impossible and realizing that it is, in fact, impossible. Now, we can easily go into a debate over the current trend in society to award everyone with participation trophies and not having winners vs. losers. I don’t want to get into that debate, however. What I have been thinking about, however, is my view on how to help my child deal with failures. In thinking about this and observing other parents, I feel that most parents fall into 3 distinct categories.
I Will Not Let You Fall
This parent is the one you will see fervently chasing their child around the playground, only steps behind and hands hovering when their child makes any attempt at climbing something. At the first sign of trouble they step in to give their child an assist. In board games they always let their child win for fear of hurting their feelings. They do their child’s science project or carve their soapbox car for them. They try to shield their child from all the bad in the world, and sugar-coat any wrong that makes its way through.
I Will Catch You When You Fall
This parent takes a slightly less hands-on approach. They still may follow their child around the playground, but they give them space to attempt things on their own. When and if the child starts to fall, they swoop in to catch them. They let their children explore their boundaries, but only to just short of actually getting hurt. They want to give their child a sense of confidence, but at the same time not so much freedom that they would actually get hurt or fail.
I Will Help You Back Up After You Fall
This is the category I fall into. I am the parent at the playground that gives my child a wide berth. I encourage my son to climb the monkey bars, slide down the big slide, and go racing through the field. I know he is going to end up getting a few bumps and bruises, and I am okay with that. In fact, I feel it is one of the more important lessons that he can learn: that every attempt at something new comes with the risk of failure, but also that the failure is temporary and should not discourage him from trying again.
If I beat him at a game, I do so in a way that encourages healthy competition and makes him want to try harder next time. And when the day comes for him to build that baking soda volcano for science class, whether it works or not he can stand with pride in front of his class knowing that he put all the work into it himself.
In life I will let my son fall; but when he does, I will be there to pick him up, give him a hug, and encourage him to try again.